The importance of examining the changing role of the public interest in the data society2021-05-28
When Facebook censored the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph The Napalm Girl, it caused a worldwide outcry. It also demonstrated the ability of digital media to redefine freedom of expression and information.
Maud Bernisson, doctor of media and communication science at Karlstad University, has in her dissertation "The Public Interest in the Data Society Deconstructing the Imaginary Policy of the GDPR" analyzed definitions and uses of the public interest during the decision-making process of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Why is it crucial to study the changing role of the public interest in the GDPR?
- The public interest is defined by governments or regulators who have democratic legitimacy. If we let the public interest be defined by private actors without the democratic approach, it will be extremely problematic. For example, Twitter decided to delete some posts that did not follow their guidelines for how to write posts. In this way, the large companies can define freedom of expression online, and this is not the way freedom of expression should be defined. There are legal texts and mechanisms that define freedom of expression - both online and off-line - so responsibilities are also being redefined by those who have the capacities to redefine this freedom online.
In her dissertation, Maud Bernisson looked at legal texts and policy texts produced during the policymaking process of the GDPR, such as the proposal from the European Commission. Much of her study is based on finding content changes in documents that have been written during the time that the GDPR has been developed. Key people have also been interviewed, partly those who have contributed to documents. All data have been analyzed to follow a change pattern to redefine the public interest.
- In this way, I have been able to see the development of key GDPR's definitions that shape the public interest, Maud Bernisson explains.
A key part of how the public interest is defined in the GDPR is security, but there are several things that affect how tech companies handle the regulations. An ideology driven by economic and technological determinisms and shared by regulators and lobbyists has contributed to shape the regulation is one of Maud Bernissons key findings.
- I think that we who research the subject have some insight into how the tech companies work and construct their functions, but if we got an even clearer insight, we would certainly discover things that we are not aware of. But it is extremely difficult to investigate. There are more and more articles about how bias technology is nowadays and it is extremely problematic that tech companies do not take biases seriously enough. They should commit to stronger ethical guidelines due to their responsibilities towards society. That perspective is often overlooked due to their business models.
In what way does your research contribute to continued work?
- My work can hopefully strengthen the continued discussion about individual freedom on the Internet.