Data Injustice

In a world where digital technologies are so commonly used, it’s hard to truly understand their power. We often use technology to keep in contact with our friends and family, to research information, to store our data and so much more. Technology has simplified many aspects of our lives and it is more commonly seen as a blessing rather than a curse. We are so used to seeing people use technology for “fun” or “useful” purposes that we forget how easy it is for technology to turn against us and become a weapon. Most of us are familiar with the way in which the data we produce through our use of technology can be used to profile us and target us for a profit. However, due to its normalization most people seem to have given up to the fact we are pawns in a game of chess that is bigger than all of us, a game amongst governments and corporations. However, what happens when technology is used to discriminate? These sorts of questions are exactly what is analyzed by a new academic field that intersects ethics and technology, called data justice.

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Photo by: Christopher Dombres

The article “What is data justice? The case for connecting digital rights and freedoms globally” by Linnet Taylor refers to the way in which data can be used as a tool of surveillance that mostly affects the poorer members of society. She explains how data is commonly used to target poorer neighbourhoods which experience more criminality and to track undocumented migrants. This use of data can be extremely dangerous can become a tool of discrimination and a tool of surveillance. When linking the dangers of surveillance to migration flows in Europe, the possibility of discrimination is imminent. Moreover, due to the impoverishment and lack of resources in the areas in which migrants are secluded, it is natural to see an increase in the rate of criminality, which in return creates a generalization by the algorithm that causes a discrimination towards certain groups. For example: in America, it is now fair for the government to spy on immigrants. According to the Guardian, the internet activity of green card holders, visa applicants, visa holders are all tracked and Sunni Muslim immigrants in particular could also face long-term surveillance. In 2018 the Department of Homeland Security implemented a new rule to track social media activity and other data as part of individuals’ immigration files. Such policies could easily be reflected overseas in Europe, as immigration is further demonized by populist political leaders. This belief is reflected in Linnet Taylor’s article as she refers to how the EU Space Agency used machine learning on satellite images to monitor migrants which moved towards the southern borders of the EU and predict their origins and movements. Their origins, movements and directions were then sold to border enforcement and migration authorities, which would use algorithmic sorting to categorize “undesirable migrants” and control who would be able to request asylum. These sorts of practices could tremendously damage organizations such as Refugees Welcome who work to help refugees integrate. In fact, if migrants are discriminated against and attaining documentation becomes harder, it will become increasingly hard for Refugees Welcome to help refugees and immigrants integrate in society.

 

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