The Dark Side of the Data Revolution – Why Responsible Data Infrastructures, Privacy and Digital Rights Matter for Good Governance

Workshop Session 2
October 7, 11:45 – 13:15, Venue: Neue Mälzerei/Elysium
Language: English


Pia Lorenz, Advisor, Advisory Project Promotion of Good Governance

Norman Schraepel, Advisor, Advisory Project Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainable Development

Isabel Rodde, Advisor, Cross Sectoral Programme “Realising Human Rights in Development Cooperation”


Ben Wagner, Director of the Centre for Internet & Human Rights at European University Viadrina

Maja Bott, Senior Economist and Project Manager at KfW Development Bank

Eric Cadora, Director, Justice Mapping Center

Sopheap Chak, Executive Director, Cambodian Center for Human Rights


Pia Lorenz & Norman Schraepel

The data revolution is rapidly transforming every part of society – a revolution not bound to national borders and a revolution that transforms international development cooperation. But what are the impacts of the vast amount of data for good governance? How can be ensured that data is used responsibly? And what implications does this have for constructive state-society-relations on a local and a global level? These are some of the key questions this workshop wants to address.

The availability of more data offers considerable opportunities for better governance. Data can be used to improve state service delivery; help to provide better management tools; serves evidence-based decision-making; and increases participation and accountability-mechanisms. Access to information can – when implemented correctly – strengthen equality and non-discrimination and ideally lead to the empowerment of marginalized groups. And finally, data plays a big role to enhance monitoring efforts, e.g. for the newly established sustainable development goals.

But aside from all these expectations there are at least as many new risks – “the dark sides of the data revolution”. Without careful foresight, new data infrastructures can reproduce existing power hierarchies and thus exacerbate inequality. Telecommunication companies and governments overwhelmingly neglect civil society when designing undemocratic and often unsafe systems and devices. Information overload may paralyze state and citizens – lost in a sea of data – and at the same time widen the digital divides between highly technologized states with powerful data processing companies and developing countries that often lack adequate infrastructures.

Furthermore, privacy is becoming one of the most pressing issues of our time. With the right tools, data can be used for mass and targeted surveillance, for the repression of particular parts of a population, or the systematic persecution of people that oppose ruling political regimes. This also leads to the overarching question of how human rights can be ensured in the digital sphere. The same rights that people have offline, including the freedom of expression, the right to free assembly and the right to privacy, the right to education and multilingualism, must also be protected online. These major challenges exemplify that data is not always empowering people or states but can generate new forms of control and domination.

Many governance projects have already implemented or plan to implement digital technologies and data tools. The workshop aims to systematically carve out the challenges with data and to point at the critical junctures during project implementation. Different practitioners and analysts will report about their challenges and lessons learned when dealing with data in different political settings. To ensure an interactive session the audience will be invited to critically discuss and share their own experiences about the challenges of the data revolution.

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