Take back your privacy online. Several practical suggestions

Costica Dumbrava | A citizen with a view | August 2019 

We often hear that we are our data meaning that our digital information and interactions are increasingly replacing our bodily presence. But as we are becoming our data this data is becoming less ours. We can blame it on the Internet, the big tech giants and/or on our giving away our valuable information in exchange for email services and funny cat videos. The truth is that our data is incessantly collected, combined, analysed, sold, stolen, etc., and, despite everyday headlines about more or less creative uses and abuses of our data, we remain only vaguely and abstractly aware about when and how it happens. Well, it happens now and here while you read this post in your cookie-stuffed browser while logged into your several social media accounts and plugged into a multitude of unassuming but data-vorous mobile apps. It is said that privacy is dead in the digital age. I do not believe it. Even if it were so, I do not think it should be this way. So what can one do to safeguard some of their privacy online? Here are few practical suggestions based on common sense and  a couple of hours of online research.

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The Citizen, the Tyrant, and the Tyranny of Patterns

Costica Dumbrava | A citizen with a view | Published on Verfassungsblog, Debate «China‘s Social Credit Sysrem» | June 2019

I agree with Wessel Reijers that social scoring systems limit political freedom and instrumentalise citizenship to impose social control. While technologies have always been used for political ends, the latest technologies relying on big data and complex algorithms offer uniquely powerful and highly effective tools to survey people, quash dissent, and reinforce an authoritarian rule. What is new is a wide appeal of technologies as ‘fixes’ for pressing social and political issues. Building on their ‘success’ in commercial sectors (banking and marketing), predictive algorithms and scoring systems are enthusiastically adopted by governmental agencies throughout the world to help making decisions in areas such as criminal justice, welfare, and border control. The Chinese Social Credit scheme is nevertheless unique because of its ambition to aggregate data from a wide variety of sources to provide a set of prescriptive algorithms for “good citizenship” that is backed by state coercion. 

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How algorithms undermine democracy

Costica Dumbrava | A citizen with a view | March 2019

In August 1955, Isaac Asimov published Franchise, a short story in which a computer decides the results of the US  elections after interviewing  one single citizen. It is the year 2008(!) and Multivac, the electing machine, has chosen Norman, a clerk in a small departement store from Bloomington, Indiana, to be the single, most representative, voter in the forthcoming US presidential elections. The idea of a single representative voter is somewhat seductive. It makes sense from an economic point of view as such arrangement would help saving all the millions spent (wasted) currently on electoral campaigns and elections. It might also make sense from a theoretical point of view if you think of the one voter as the embodyment of the popular will (a la Rousseau). However, Asimov’s tale is not one of perfect representation; it is one of algorithmic politics. 

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Citizenship Forecast: Partly Cloudy with Chances of Algorithms

Costica Dumbrava | A citizen with a view | Published in R. Bauböck (ed.), Debating Transformations of National Citizenship, IMISCOE Research Series | 2018

In his thought-provoking kick-off contribution, Liav Orgad (1) enthusiastically embraces the idea of a global digital citizenship that could remedy some of the deficiencies of the present system of territorial national citizenships and, potentially, transform the meaning of democratic citizenship. Technologies such as blockchain could allow people to create virtual communities based on shared interests and sustained by instantaneous consent, beyond the reach of nosy governments and regardless of national borders. By widening access to rights, expanding political voice and creating more secure and diverse identities, digital citizenship could address current challenges related to the imperfect attribution of status and rights (statelessness, disenfranchisement), widespread political apathy among citizens and artificial divisions created by national borders. To paraphrase the text of a famous cartoon: ‘on the internet nobody knows you are a foreigner’.

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The unbearable cleverness of algorithmic citizenship

Costica Dumbrava | A citizen with a view | March 2018

Adam: Have you watched the news?

Eve: Oh! Poor children…

Adam: Imagine, all three of them had genetic mutations that would have prevented them from living worthy lives.

Eve: Lucky fat guy!

Adam: Well, good that the trolley was connected to the Central Unit. Who else would have been able to tell?

Eve: Yet, poor children!

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Welcome to E-stonia! E-residence and Citizenship in an Electronic Republic

Costica Dumbrava | A citizen with a view | published on GLOBALCIT blog, European University Institute | September 2015

In 2014 Estonia launched an e-residence scheme through which non-resident foreigners could obtain an Estonian digital identity card. The digital card allows people to access a series of digital services such as enabling them to create and use electronic signatures, launch and manage companies, do online banking, etc. The procedure for obtaining the card is quite simple. Apart from providing several standard items such as application form, national ID, and personal photo, the applicants must pay a fee (€50 in 2014) and submit a written explanation “concerning the intention to use the digital ID and the circumstance of its use”. If granted, the digital card will be issued within 15 days. The policy rationale for the Estonian e-residency card is economic. The emphasis is on encouraging entrepreneurship and attracting business by removing administrative barriers as well as bypassing migration regulations. By aiming to attract 10 million e-Estonians by 2025 in a country of 1.3 million citizens, the government seeks to boost Estonia’s competitiveness on the global market. This adds to other Estonian business friendly measures such as tax-free for profit reinvestment and championing digital services. Notwithstanding the economic merits of the e-residence scheme, it is worth exploring its implications for citizenship. Is e-residence a membership status? Does e-residence triggers claims of membership as physical residence usually does?

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