Pandemic Data

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, the global technology sector, equipped with unprecedented wealth and power, mobilised to seize the opportunity.

Our open-access edited collection, published by Meatspace Press in August 2020, provides an account of what happened next, capturing the emergent conflicts and responses around the world. The essays provide an international perspective on the implications of these developments for justice: they make it possible to compare how the intersection of state and corporate power—and the way that power is targeted and exercised—confronts, and invites resistance from, civil society in countries worldwide. The book was officially launched in September 2020 at an event organised with the Ada Lovelace Institute. It has been discussed at the Oxford Internet Institute, and reviewed on [email protected], Security Dialogue, European Data Protection Law Review, and Surveillance & Society. The book’s innovative design has been featured in Eye Magazine and It’s Nice That.

We have initiated a new series of essays to build and expand on the book. The Data and Pandemic Politics series, featured below, focuses on regional and country issues in more detail, following the development of the pandemic and of data and technology in response to it. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with us at [email protected].

Essay #8 in the Data and Pandemic Politics series on data justice and COVID-19 Editors’ Note: In this essay, Goldsman and Montenegro examine the complex rights issues relating to sexting in a political climate made tense by pandemic-related surveillance and crackdowns on political and civil freedoms.…

Essay #4 in the Data and Pandemic Politics series on data justice and COVID-19 Editors’ Note: The pandemic’s effects have differed along the lines of income level, gender, race and ethnicity, and access to opportunity, among many other divides.…

Essay #3 in the Data and Pandemic Politics series on data justice and COVID-19 Editors’ Note: Drawing on the open-access collection, in this post Silvia Masiero identifies three themes for further research to address: how the pandemic is influencing and (re)shaping the digital systems related to social protection, how it is producing or amplifying data-induced injustices, and what constitutes the intersection of data injustices with pre-existing forms of oppression and inequality.…

Essay #2 in the Data and Pandemic Politics series on data justice and COVID-19 Editors’ Note: The South African government has used the rise in mobile contact tracing during the pandemic to try to increase, and centralise control over, geolocation data through the participation of commercial tech firms.…

About the project

Places and populations that were previously digitally invisible are now part of a ‘data revolution’ that is being hailed as a transformative tool for human and economic development. Yet this unprecedented expansion of the power to digitally monitor, sort, and intervene is not well connected to the idea of social justice, nor is there a clear concept of how broader access to the benefits of data technologies can be achieved without amplifying misrepresentation, discrimination, and power asymmetries.

We therefore need a new framework for data justice integrating data privacy, non-discrimination, and non-use of data technologies into the same framework as positive freedoms such as representation and access to data. This project will research the lived experience of data technologies in high- and low-income countries worldwide, seeking to understand people’s basic needs with regard to these technologies. We will also seek the perspectives of civil society organisations, technology companies, and policymakers.