Just as this is an age of great wealth inequality, it is also an age of great inequality of knowledge or, more exactly, factual information. For all its democratic potential, the fact-filled internet has only heightened the pre-Google asymmetry between those, on one side, loyal to Baconian methods of patient, inductive gathering of facts — the ways of the card catalog and the archive, of the analysis and evaluation of empirical data — and those, on the other side, who didn't need to read Foucault or the Frankfurt School to nurture a suspicion that positivist orders of knowledge mask a hierarchy of power in which they are meant to occupy the lowest rungs.And from 'A Global Panopticon? The Changing Role of International Organizations in the Information Age' by Jennifer Shkabatur in 33(2) Michigan Journal of International Law (2011) 1-57 -
It’s the Republican Party's deliberate disinformation strategy, more than any properties inherent in so-called information technologies, that has created these two parallel Americas. In one of them, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, climate change is a patent hoax, and the Laffer curve is the most basic truth of economics. As for the inhabitants of the other universe — "the reality-based community” of old-fashioned skeptics and empiricists, frequenters of public and university libraries, readers of the New York Times and of Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, avid perusers of Harper’s Index and WikiLeaks — we possess ever vaster quantities of mostly accurate facts, and not much sense of what to do with them. Data data everywhere, and not a thought to think! Outside of a hedge fund or the CIA, there aren't too many places where knowledge is power. Much of the time, intellectually and politically, knowledge is powerlessness.
The division between empiricists and fantasists is clearest in politics. But it’s beginning to enter literature. Dickens in Hard Times made fun of Gradgrind — "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these girls and boys nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life" — and there is a way in which, until recently, information and what used to be called "imaginative literature" were usually understood to be addressing themselves to the right and left hemispheres of the brain instead of the political spectrum. Lately, however, there has also come to be a literary expression or embodiment of liberal empiricism, an emergent literary Gradgrindism that deserves analysis.
Apart from glimmerings in early forebears — Flaubert in Bouvard & Pécuchet, Dickens himself in Bleak House, a few chapters of Moby-Dick, and most famously Zola — the informationization of literature became most clearly visible in what we've called "the research novel" of the 1980s and ’90s: the fact-flaunting of writers as diverse as Sebald, Tom Wolfe, and Don DeLillo, whose brilliant but failed Cosmopolis gave us Eric Packer, a portrait of the artist as a hedge-fund tycoon and obsessive gatherer of facts. As James Wood observed in 2001, 'knowing about things' has become one of the qualifications of the contemporary novelist. Still, the research novel mostly subordinated its facts, even as these increased in density, to plot and character. What we begin to glimpse in recent years, especially in "literary nonfiction", is something different: the evolution of a style that resembles "information for information’s sake", in something like the art for art's sake of 19th-century French decadence. What can this new literature of information be saying? The nature of facts is supposed to be that they speak for themselves. The nature of literature of course is the opposite — that it always means more than it says. Maybe the new literature of information can tell us something about our relationship to facts that the facts alone refuse to disclose?
The dossiers of documents, the montages of objects, in magazines like Harper’s or Cabinet, stage first of all a deliberate refusal to use the information they display for any other purpose, like persuasion or synthesis. Information, they suggest, is the very thing itself, self-sufficiently eloquent — no embellishment or commentary required. These fact-heaps feed our appetite for what practitioners in these genres like to call reality, something said — by David Shields for instance — to be in short supply.
The absence in these texts of anything resembling argumentation is itself a tacit kind of advocacy. The assemblage of information (Wikipedia and WikiLeaks being collective examples of the form, and Jonathan Lethem’s famous essay-of-quotations being an individual one) promotes the cause of Roland Barthes’s open form, where meaning-making is fundamentally a readerly rather than writerly activity. It also brings to mind Walter Benjamin’s over-cited proclamation that montage is "useless for the purposes of fascism" — because it doesn’t predigest reality, in the manner of propaganda. The liberal empiricists’ idea is that facts, naked and massed together like the human beings in those Spenser Tunick photographs, serve the cause of political and intellectual freedom, because facts don’t tell you what to think. They report, you decide.
In the best of the empiricists’ works, information for information’s sake becomes information for art’s sake.
Achieving compliance is one of the most challenging aspects of international law. International organizations are entrusted with the responsibility to monitor state compliance with international obligations, but often fail to do so. International regulation therefore becomes ineffective. The Article argues that the introduction of information technologies transforms this reality.All in all unpersuasive.
The Article explores the powerful potential of online compliance monitoring in three major fields of international regulation: health, environment, and human rights. It demonstrates that information technologies allow international organizations to actively search for and unearth otherwise unavailable information on state compliance. As part of this, the Article provides the first legal account of how information technologies enabled the World Health Organization to overcome state resistance and detect the early signs of the recent global pandemics - SARS and Swine Flu. Further, the Article suggests how comparable measures can be adopted by other international regulatory regimes.
Discussing the normative implications of this phenomenon, the Article posits that it can generate an unprecedented "global panopticon": a situation in which states lose control over sensitive information and can always be watched by non-governmental bodies. The Article discusses the repercussions of this new reality, and offers a legal framework that mitigates the adverse effects of this “panopticon” while bolstering its benefits.
'Much Ado About Data Ownership' by Barbara Evans in 25 Harvard Journal of Law and Technology (2011) suggests that -
Recently there have been calls to clarify ownership of data held in large health information networks. This article explores the realities of what patient data ownership would imply to explain why a clearer allocation of entitlements to raw health data would neither enhance patient privacy nor promote access to valuable data resources for public health and research. It updates the debate to account for the 2009 HITECH Act, which correctly recognized that raw patient data are not the valuable resource; these data acquire value only through the application of infrastructure services. The HITECH Act drew on a long tradition of American infrastructure regulation that offers real promise in resolving the infrastructure bottlenecks which (rather than the unresolved status of data ownership) have been the key impediment to data access. Despite this progress there are two unresolved problems, both heretofore neglected in the literature: First, the existing federal regulatory framework governing data access conceives the state’s police power to use data to promote public health much more narrowly than the police power is conceived in all other legal contexts. Second, existing regulatory provisions allowing nonconsensual access to data for research fail to incorporate any “public use” requirement to ensure that unconsented research uses of data are justified by a publicly beneficial purpose. As things stand, persons whose health data are used in research have no assurance that the use will serve any socially beneficial purpose at all. This article reframes the debate. The right question is not who owns health data. Instead, the debate should be about appropriate public uses of private data and how best to facilitate them while adequately protecting individuals’ interests.Evans concludes that -
Many Americans share "a common belief that, today, people must be asked for permission for each and every release of their health information". They are mistaken. At all times in our nation’s history, there have been pathways for nonconsensual use of health data. The Institute of Medicine recently recommended moving away from a consent-based model altogether for certain types of health informational research and replacing it with two alternatives: one would rely on certified entities, operating under strict privacy and information security requirements, to manage data uses; the other would rely on "waiver of informed consent by an ethics oversight board". The waiver provisions of current regulations were never designed to serve as the gateway for nonconsensual use of data and they have multiple flaws. Data propertization will not solve these problems.
Psychologists have observed that feelings of ownership "are so basic to the human psyche that communities will create rudimentary property rights even in the absence of formal legal structures". Modern utilitarian property theory has not fully eradicated the popular conception of property “as an extension of the human person". This personhood-based account of property is implicit in the tendency to link property and privacy and may account for the strong urge people feel to consider ownership as a way to address data privacy and access issues. This urge must be resisted. It distracts from the more important questions, "What is an appropriate public use of private data?" and "How shall we make that decision?"