Helen Nissenbaum on Regulating Data Collection and Use
NYU professor Helen Nissenbaum gave an excellent lecture at Brown University last month, where she rebutted those who think that we should not regulate data collection, only data use: something she calls “big data exceptionalism.” Basically, this is the idea that collecting the “haystack” isn’t the problem; it what is done with it that is. (I discuss this same topic in Data and Goliath, on pages 197-9.)
In her talk, she makes a very strong argument that the problem is one of domination. Contemporary political philosopher Philip Pettit has written extensively about a republican conception of liberty. He defines domination as the extent one person has the ability to interfere with the affairs of another.
Under this framework, the problem with wholesale data collection is not that it is used to curtail your freedom; the problem is that the collector has the power to curtail your freedom. Whether they use it or not, the fact that they have that power over us is itself a harm.