Written by Philip Boucher.
A recently published Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) study examines different models of data governance practiced in various contexts in Europe and around the world, and their potential contribution to European digital strategies.
The dominant approach to data governance in Europe embraces data as an asset and promotes its appropriation by and through a range of artificial intelligence (AI) applications. This approach can create imbalances between users and platforms in terms of access to the data, control over its use, and the distribution of costs, benefits and risks. However, alternative models of data governance are possible and, indeed, practiced in various contexts in Europe and around the world.
A new STOA study identifies several different data governance models and examines them from a data justice perspective. The authors propose an assessment framework with four benchmarks for ‘good governance’: preserving and strengthening public infrastructures and public goods, inclusiveness, contestability and accountability, and global responsibility. They assess each model through this lens and explore their potential contribution to EU digital policy before articulating a range of policy options.
The authors highlight the following five key messages of their work:
1. Defining the potential for data as a public good
The authors argue that the EU still has work to do in conceptualising what kind of public good data should be. They find that the legal framework under construction articulates an aim of creating value from data for both public and private purposes, yet the mechanisms for arbitrating between these aims are considered unclear, and the balancing of public and private interests is found to vary across legislative instruments.
2. Adopting a constitutional lens for data governance
The study shows how the existing regulatory framework in the EU for data governance runs the risk of becoming fragmented. While the focus on building digital markets is coherent in itself, the different instruments involved may create disjunctures in how technological harms are conceptualised, and can limit the equitable distribution of power both in terms of accessing and using data, and in making claims and seeking redress where necessary. The authors argue that approaching data governance through a constitutional lens – an overarching set of aims regarding rights and the equitable distribution of power – could help provide coherence.
3. Developing the role of societal groups in decision-making
The authors argue that AI and data governance should centre collective will and decision-making around societal groups, and that plural thinking and input on digital infrastructures is required to support and build resilient public goods within the EU. They find that the current thinking on AI governance leaves civil society too exposed to exploitation and rights violations, and that paths to civil society power over AI’s development and deployment remain underexplored.
4. Articulating clear aims for data governance tools
Current trends in data governance involve the development of different tools such as data trusts, various forms of cooperatives and commons, and stewardship processes. The authors argue that these only become relevant in relation to particular goals, and may be misused where the overarching normative goals are not clearly articulated and enforced.
5. Democratising oversight and enforcement
The authors suggest that democratising the process of oversight and enforcement with regard to data and AI could help ensure that they can respond to social concerns. As powerful technologies are increasingly used in public contexts, it is increasingly necessary to ensure that oversight and enforcement structures have public-facing components, can demonstrate democratic accountability, and are more representative of society.
Read the full report and STOA options brief to find out more. The study will be presented by its authors to the STOA Panel at its meeting on 15 September 2022. A video of the presentation can be streamed via the Parliament’s Multimedia Centre.
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