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Photo: Shutterstock / Prabhjit S. Kalsi

The Right to Be Seen

– Project Syndicate

In this article from Project Syndicate, the problem of data poverty and the social and economic inequalities that come from living without any digital proof is brought into focus

In this opinion piece, authors Anne-Marie Slaughter and Yuliya Panfil address the difficult balance between the risks of a surveillance state and the power of technology to deliver services and protect fundamental rights.

In order to get the balance right, they argue that people should control that balance themselves - rather than it being controlled by corporations and government agencies.

Empowering people to use their own data to prove vital facts about themselves will help them “access the rights and privileges to which they are entitled.”

The authors cite a number of examples to demonstrate how access to data records - in the absence of formal identity documents - has the potential to help people in very real ways. For example, victims who have lost their homes during natural disasters could prove ownership of land by showing geotagged Facebook images of themselves on their properties prior to the disaster. In this way, lack of proof-of-address is not a limiting factor in rebuilding homes and lives.

The article concludes that privacy advocates are leading important efforts to navigate a dual way forward that both reduces surveillance as well as empowers citizens to use their data to access fundamental rights and services.

In places where no alternative record exists, or where the record has been destroyed by conflict or disaster, this digital proof can be life-changing

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