The Sensitive Politics Of Information For Digital States

Essay by Federica Carugati, Cyanne E. Loyle and Jessica Steinberg: “In 2020, Vice revealed that the U.S. military had signed a contract with Babel Street, a Virginia-based company that created a product called Locate X, which collects location data from users across a variety of digital applications. Some of these apps are seemingly innocuous: one for following storms, a Muslim dating app and a level for DIY home repair. Less innocuously, these reports indicate that the U.S. government is outsourcing some of its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency information-gathering activities to a private company.

While states have always collected information about citizens and their activities, advances in digital technologies — including new kinds of data and infrastructure — have fundamentally altered their ability to access, gather and analyze information. Bargaining with and relying on non-state actors like private companies creates tradeoffs between a state’s effectiveness and legitimacy. Those tradeoffs might be unacceptable to citizens, undermining our very understanding of what states do and how we should interact with them …(More)”