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Risky Datafication in the State of Denmark

In a brilliant paper on how surveillance capitalism manifests itself within the public sector of welfare Denmark, senior researcher of the Danish Insitute of Human Rights, Rikke Frank Jørgensen, warns that unless a more critical and human-centric approach to ‘smart governance’ is taken, the digital welfare state will advance a digital technocracy that treats its citizens as data points suited for calculation and prediction rather than as individuals with agency and rights.

Here’s the conclusion of the paper:

“In an age of intense datafication, the risk of widening the information and power asymmetry between the individual and the state is substantial – a risk that might be further fuelled by optimistic narratives of what data-driven governance may accomplish. While the data harvesting and prediction logic of surveillance capitalism has mostly been associated with the private sector, it is now travelling to the public sector. The developments towards the digital welfare state and its increasing focus on automated solutions as part of delivering public services and controlling welfare benefits effectively deploy the same type of data analytics that tech giants deploy for commercial purposes, to target and influence the behaviour of their users. Likewise, it may lead to similar data maximisation, profiling of the individual, invasive means of surveilling and predicting citizens, and ultimately disempowerment – depending on how the public sector develops and deploys its digital welfare project. As the state has both the power and means to intervene directly into the life of its citizens, its deployment of data analytics can lead towards a public sector version of surveillance capitalism, unless it is a clear political goal not to go down this path.

Denmark is a front runner in digitalisation, and its most recent AI strategy does include some human rights norms and ethical considerations, reflecting the EU debate on these issues. The two case examples presented in this paper, however, is illustrative of data-driven governance that is system-centric rather than human-centric. Whether the AI strategy will be substantiated into a rights-based approach in Denmark’s next phase of AI-driven digitalisation remains an open question.”

Get the full paper