On data rights, immigration, privilege, power, and the shit life throws at you

Musings / UK policy
a heart-shaped leaf on a gravel path

This week, my professional work involved a lot of time spent on the interplay between privacy, data rights, and immigration. In the post-Brexit era, we tend to think of those issues as they are now, meaning the political manifestation of xenophobia, racism, and the erosion of fundamental rights. For me, however, my interest in these issues goes a lot farther back. Read More

The UNICEF Manifesto on better governance of children’s data

Photograph of a girl doing homework at a computer

Over the past year, I had the privilege of contributing to a UNICEF manifesto on the better governance of children’s data. I’m thrilled to finally announce that the manifesto has been published. We hope that governments and policymakers will use it to put young people at the centre of their decisions.

The manifesto contains ten action points:

  1. Protect children & their rights through child-centered data governance. Minimize the use of surveillance and algorithms for profiling children’s behaviour.
  2. Prioritise children’s best interests in all decisions about children’s data. Governments & companies should prioritize children’s rights in their data collection, processing & storage practices.
  3. Consider children’s unique identities, evolving capacities and circumstances in data governance frameworks. Every child is different!
  4. Shift responsibility for data protection from children to companies & governments. Extend the protection measures to all children below the age of 18.
  5. Collaborate with children and their communities in policy building + management of their data. Through distributed models of data governance, children and their communities should have more say.
  6. Represent children’s interests within administrative and judicial processes, as well as redress mechanisms
  7. Provide adequate resources to implement child-inclusive data governance frameworks. Data protection authorities & tech companies must employ staff who understand children’s rights.
  8. Use policy innovation in data governance to solve complex problems and accelerate results for children. Policy innovation can help public authorities to make the most of data, while at the same time safeguarding children’s rights.
  9. Bridge knowledge gaps in the realm of data governance for children. There are some urgent knowledge gaps that need further research to ensure that data governance regulations are evidence-based.
  10. Strengthen interational collaboration for children’s data governance + promote knowledge + policy transfer among countries. We call for greater global coordination on law + policy.

In my approach to the project, I brought two things to the table. One was my perspective as a privacy and digital rights activist. The other was my perspective as the mum of a teenager living through the most confusing years of their life in the middle of a pandemic lockdown. Yes, the adtech surveillance on their phone scares me. But safety tech vendors, the headteacher’s Chromebook monitoring, and the school system’s mandatory “safeguarding” obligations scare me even more. Any proposed legislative options which consider one but not the other, or which propose digital solutions to analogue problems, will solve nothing.

Children and young people have the rights to privacy and freedom of expression as much as adults do. I hope that the Manifesto provides a useful toolkit to help them enjoy those rights more than they are able to do so today.
Download the manifesto

Political Geography and the Internet: the view from 1999


This year, Spawn of Wonk has been studying geography. A discussion about the curriculum led me to dig out my crispy, moulding, but decidedly intact handwritten notes from the political geography course I took as an undergraduate.

And wonder of wonders, there’s half a page of notes on “Political Geography and the Internet.” When you hold it in the light of what I work on every day, it’s ever so slightly prophetic.

So here’s what we trainee diplomats in international politics schools were getting to grips with at the turn of the millennium. One of these links, amazingly, still works. My handwriting was as bad then as it is now.

Political geography and the internet
October 18, 1999

  • Gatekeepers’ roles have changed in light of the internet – official or private
  • Fourth world – nations of people without states
  • Silent voices, alternate voices against the status quo, consumers
  • At onset of internet, notion that political geography would no longer matter
  • How will technology change geopolitical balance? Question goes back to Mackinder and Mahan*
  • Packet switching, 1980s ARPAnet linked with mainframes, IBM Bitnet, NSFnet
  • Who’s online? U.S. 23% in 1995
  • State pages, alternative groups, space involving active conversation
  • Idea of 1) multidirectional and interactive communications 2) instantaneous 3) transnational
  • www.actlab.utexas.edu/~zapatistas live chats with Marcos
  • www.cybergeography.org

*22 years later, as government commissions a £200 million nationalist yacht, we are arguably right back at Mackinder and Mahan.

Your cut-and-keep guide to the “unregulated wild west internet”

UK policy

At least once a month, the policy sphere has to put up with another round of politicians banging the table about the internet being an “unregulated wild west.” The trope prevails because many groups deliberately adopt it as a campaigning tactic. They find a sympathetic politician, whisper in their ear that the internet is an “unregulated wild west” and tell them that they – THEY – could be the swashbuckling sheriff riding in to be the hero. Grandiose statements are made. Political egos are stroked. Campaigns meet their KPIs. Rinse and repeat. Read More