Public Lecture: What is data justice for (South) Africa, and who gets to decide?

Nelson Mandela Public Lecture Series

Assoc. Prof. Linnet Taylor with Gabriella Razzano.

What is data justice for (South) Africa, and who gets to decide?

How should data technologies be governed? What kind of debate can we have across borders and cultures about datafication, and can we generalise about what constitute beneficial digitisation? The increasing use and availability of data technologies such as mobile phones, internet access and new ways of counting and monitoring presents several challenges. First, accessing new data sources to count and understand people better could mean that vulnerable people will be better represented and served, but it could also mean they will be more surveilled and discriminated against, and easier to target. Second, the private sector’s ability to reach and evaluate consumers can be useful in stimulating economic growth and development, but can also enforce patterns of inequality and injustice by excluding marginalised groups more efficiently from access to jobs and services. How to balance the positive and negative potential of data technologies is a question of governance, and specifically of inclusive governance. How can people’s experiences of data technologies inform policy decisions about how the data economy should be shaped? Who should get to choose how the new data sources are channelled and applied? These questions touch on some very basic questions of rights and justice, but the data dimension opens up new ways of asking and addressing these questions. In particular, it demands that we think of the relationship between the private and public sectors, and the power of the private sector in social and economic policy, since the new data sources are mostly generated in the private sector.

Gabriella Razzano, founding Director of OpenUp (a open data civic tech lab based in Cape Town) and the former Executive Director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre and Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic with the London School of Economics  will provide a South African perspective on data governance.”    

Linnet Taylor is Assistant Professor of Data Ethics, Law and Policy at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT), where she leads the ERC-funded DATA-JUSTICE project which aims to understand the different perspectives worldwide on what constitutes just treatment through data technologies. Her research focuses on the use of new sources of digital data in governance and research around issues of human and economic development. She was previously a Marie Curie research fellow in the University of Amsterdam’s International Development faculty a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, and studied a DPhil in International Development at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.    

Gabriella Razzano is a founding Director of OpenUp (a open data civic tech lab based in Cape Town) and the former Executive Director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre. She is currently an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity with the London School of Economics and an Alumni of the Global Digital Leaders Exchange of the US State Department IVLP Program. She was the Chairperson of the Regional African Platform on Access to Information from 2015-2017 and one of Mail & Guardians 200 Young South Africans of 2013. She has a BA LLB with a distinction in Sociology from the University of Cape Town.