Human Rights in the Digital Era

Freedom, Identity and Privacy in the Information Society

Professor Andrew Murray (London School od Economics) questions whether the law is sufficiently equipped to ensure individual management of identity online

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“Searching for Vonnegut’s Narrator: Freedom, Identity and Privacy in the Information Society” – Professor Andrew Murray, London School of Economics

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 Novel “Breakfast of Champions” divides opinion sharply. Even Vonnegut himself only gave it a C+ in his self-evaluation collected in “Palm Sunday”, yet its themes of identity, consumerism, cultural homogeneity and freedom of choice resonate with a wider audience. Today these themes are more pertinent than ever.  How does  one construct their identity when control over the very information that forms the root of cultural and personal identity is in the hands of others? What happens when the digital and physical worlds collide through the Internet of Things and separate identities are merged for all to see? How does one form their own identity when information and cultural references are controlled b a very few media companies?

This paper will look at these, and other issues by asking whether the law is sufficiently well established and developed in the fields of data and personal privacy to protect one’s personal sphere sufficiently well to allow for the development of a self-determined identity. It will look at data protection, the right to privacy and the development of data gathering, storing and mining techniques. In particular it will question whether the Internet of Things is sufficiently well regulated to ensure individual management of identity. They key character in all this is Philboyd Studge, Kurt Vonnegut’s narrator/alter ego who controls all the characters in his book and yet can allow them freedom of will. This is a choice that digital media corporations and data controllers may have to make in the near future: do we treat people as people or do we treat them as (fixed) nodes? And more pertinently for us – what should be the response of the law to this?

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