User-Generated Collateral Data as Property: A Philosophical Argument for Implementing a Property Rights Framework for Data at the Global Human Rights Level
Defense and Security Studies
Ethics and Political Philosophy
The advent of the digital age has borne a new economic ideology, termed “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshanna Zuboff, whereby technological corporations extract valuable behavioral insights from swaths of user-generated “collateral” data to amass profit. The employment of surveillance capitalist logic results in several pernicious harms to the individual and the collective. In this thesis, I argue that surveillance capitalism poses specific threats to freedom, autonomy, and distributive justice. Previous scholarship has conceptualized the right to data through the lens of privacy. However, I posit that a framework of property rights may be better suited to address surveillance capitalisms' threats. I reference the landscape of data privacy laws, as well as a broader argument as to the global nature of cyberspace, to establish that privacy laws in isolation cannot remediate the harms resulting from surveillance capitalism. Subsequently, this paper makes two crucial arguments: first, that the injuries wrought by surveillance capitalism necessitate the designation of the “right to data” as a human right. Referencing the works of John Rawls, Charles Beitz, and Joseph Raz, I advance the claim that the right to data is justified by the same normative principles used to justify the existing practice of human rights. The second major premise indicates that property rights will adequately address surveillance capitalism’s threats to autonomy, freedom, and distributive justice. In the following sections of the thesis, I explore possible practical manifestations of the property rights framework and consider relevant objections to the argument.