Are we losing our ability to control our own identities?
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Andrew Tutt has written an article about the erosion of the “revisability principle” in American law. This is a principle which is written into the American constitution and is based on the assumption that individuals have the right to retain the capacity to control their own destinies by making deliberate choices about their lives.
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He suggests that the level of surveillance and particularly storing of data on individuals we see today means that we are more tied than ever to our previous actions. The vast quantities of stored information on our past behaviour means that it is increasingly difficult for us to actively constitute our own lives and identities.
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The revisability principle is something which, as Tutt observes, previously did not, on the whole, need to be protected because it did not have any natural predators. But the extent and sophistication of data storage means it is now endangered.
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I have previosuly written on the potential impact of surveillance, life-logging and the scale of data storage and, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, suggested that a level of “active forgetfulness” may be desirable on an individual and social level. A similar concern can be seen in the calls for the right to be forgotten by Google. It has been reported that 60,000 people have requested to be removed from Google searches. Even this, however, will not remove data on these individuals just make it a little more difficult to find it.
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While there is no revisability principle in UK law it does represent a value with which many people may have sympathy. This is especially so given the levels of surveillance to which British people are subject and the potential future erosion of their civil liberties through proposals such as Theresa May’s “Extremism Disruption Order” (on which I have previously written).
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Edward Snowden recently said that the approach to surveillance in the UK is more intrusive even than that in the USA and that there is an “anything goes” attitude towards what can be collected by the UK government. Under the UK system, Snowden claims, data are gathered on us all the time and it is down to the government to justify why they need this and there is little opportunity for use to challenge them on this.
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In order to be properly in control of our lives, identities and destinies is it necessary to control what is know about our past?
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