A deep dive into digital self-determination | by Berkman Klein Center | Collection Center Berkman Klein | May 2021

Rory Torres shares his experience in Berkman Klein’s latest global research sprint

In an increasingly digital world, our online experiences are shaped by data collected and used to personalize experiences. But what control do users have over this data, where it goes and how it is used?

Questions of control over personal data have been a cross-cutting theme throughout a Research Sprint co-organized by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and Digital Asia Hub. The Sprint also examined other important dimensions of self-determination in the digital networked world, for example, self-expression and participation in civic life and the digital economy, or relationship building and well-being, to name just a few areas of application.

The three-month program for graduate students focused on digital self-determination spanning a range of geographies, backgrounds and contexts. The cohort, which came from 21 countries around the world, met regularly to participate in critical discussions and create accessible educational resources – including a Wikipedia page and one Wikiversity Living Syllabus – on the subject.

Mary Rhauline “Rory” Torres, Harvard Law LL.M. ’21 participated in a recent Berkman Klein Center Research Sprint. Courtesy image.

A participant, Mary Rhauline “Rory” Torres, Harvard Law LL.M. “21, joined the sprint from Mangaldan, Pangasinan, Philippines. We spoke with Torres about her experience in the program, what she learned, and how it influenced her work.

I discovered the Research Sprint when the professor Urs gasser posted it in his Comparative Digital Privacy course. The call to participate resonated with me because there was a huge wave of new internet participants in Southeast Asia when the pandemic struck. This represents 40 million new Internet users who are fundamentally opening their lives to the digital world. It is an exciting place, but it also comes with threats and prejudices. Even those of us who have been online for some time are still struggling to find our place in the digital space. I believed that learning digital self-determination can help us understand our role on the internet as individuals and as a community, and thrive there.

Prior to the Research Sprint, my understanding of digital self-determination was limited to empowering an individual to participate in a digital environment and be equipped to do so responsibly, much like digital citizenship. I didn’t realize how digital self-determination was until we started talking about it with related concepts like digital rights, digital colonialism, informational self-determination; to situate it in various contexts such as digital health, digital economy, digital information; and base it on principles that would achieve self-determination, such as reliable data spaces. It is all very interesting and complex!

The Sprint is made up of an amazing group of people from all over the world with so many diverse backgrounds. There are students who study psychology, communication, political science, social science, and culture. The diversity of language, culture and studies makes it difficult to understand digital self-determination, as we all have different backgrounds. But there is also beauty because it allows us to find connections, to face different, sometimes opposing perspectives, and to accept and respect that.

We started by assembling a bibliography of articles relating to digital self-determination. Based on this bibliography, the group created an outline in a shared Google document. We’ve since expanded that plan by communicating through Slack, gathered volunteers to write sections that interest them, and some have met through Zoom or smaller discussion groups to get feedback, do peer reviews, and provide input. modifications.

the Wikipedia entry is divided into three parts: first, an overview of the history of self-determination in philosophy, psychology and its legal adaptations, and the definition of self-determination in the digital sphere; second, identify practical elements that support the achievement of digital self-determination, such as digital infrastructure, equal access, protection of privacy; and third, current issues relating to digital self-determination, including a discussion of regulation and legal frameworks, to which I contribute.

Having a Wiki entry on digital self-determination is an important first step in bringing the principle into the digital space, making it more accessible and understandable, and keeping in mind that the concept is a work in progress.

The Information Regime session was extremely interesting because it relates so well to our everyday life: living in a place and time where information seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. One of the first things I do in the morning is open my phone, read the New York Times “Recommended Stories” on my account, open the Telegram news group on the COVID-19 situation to Philippines, check my emails and I’m bombarded with the newsletters I subscribe to, and then there’s Facebook. There is so much information, so there is this burden of having no excuse not to be aware of an important issue. And there is so much misinformation, that filtering reliable content from unreliable content has become so overwhelming.

So I really loved the teacher Sarah gennerIntroducing Information Diet and what it means to be in the driver’s seat in the digital age and not the other way around and get a glimpse of how to log out, do digital detox, and avoid digital distractions. While studying for my exams I used the Pomodoro technique and the amount of study I was able to take was almost cathartic.

I was fascinated by the teacher Nishant ShahConference on the formation of our identities in the digital age. It has prompted many questions about how an individual defines their identity through digital artifacts – which one may or may not have created or downloaded for oneself; how digital spaces can constrain our definition of ourselves in and out of cyberspace; and how do we preserve these identities – or do we even want to?

In the same speech, Professor Shah’s example of the thousands of cloud photos of his nephew uploaded for him by his relatives resonated with me as a parent. As a mother of a four year old, it is so hard to stop me from uploading photos of my child – what the teacher Leah Plunkett calls “Sharing”. Parents create our children’s digital footprints and much of their private moments are already in the digital space. But beyond the dangers of violating children’s privacy, creating this catalog of children’s lives online may limit their ability to define who they are, to reflect on their experiences, to associate objects with their memories, because so much has already been documented. for them.

So when does digitalization interfere too much with children’s self-determination? This is a subject that I want to explore further. This goes hand in hand with other parenting issues in the digital age, like security. Parents should educate themselves about technology and how our children interact with it because it doesn’t go away and it plays an important role in how they define themselves and their realities. I personally recommend Professor Urs Gasser’s book “The connected parentAs a starting point.

Rory Torres with his daughter. Courtesy image.

When we talk about law and technology, there is always a discussion of seemingly competing but often interacting concepts: the individual and the collective, the private and the public, the offline and the online. As an LL.M. student, what I have achieved by studying these concepts related to technology is that technology is highly contextual and it evolves rapidly, so as a student in right, it is difficult to create a one-size-fits-all approach to encourage innovation that would have a positive impact on the world or to address any harms or threats that technology can bring. This is the attitude I brought with me to the Research Sprint, and it helped me broaden my perspective and try to see self-determination from the perspective of participants and speakers with backgrounds and backgrounds. varied skills.

Finding my path after HLS is an exercise in self-determination! At HLS, I have organized my Law and Technology courses for Business and Technology, Internet and Society, as there is always this tension between business interests and social issues. The Research Sprint in particular broadened my thinking beyond legal frameworks and allowed me to explore the field of social science and the Internet, and was particularly inspired by Professor Lokman Tsui’s work on free expression, digital rights and Internet politics in Asia. In this regard, I also want to explore privacy by design and study how to embed digital self-determination in its principles, beyond respect for user privacy, and experiment with startups how to integrate privacy by design and digital self-determination as they develop their platforms.

About Geraldine Higgins

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