TA 5. Building trust in data and statistics

(TA5.06) The Ethics of Data – How Data is Reshaping the Relationship between Citizen and the State


Dubai Stat Hall October 24, 2018 3:00 pm - 4:15 pm

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Stefaan Verhulst
Michele Acuto
Amna Al Owais
Marjo Bruun
Martine Durand
Niels Ploug


The massive growth in computing since the 1980s and 1990s has revolutionized data gathering and how people transact with one another. The result is that practically every economic, financial, social and political transaction is recorded somewhere by someone and can be linked to the individuals undertaking the transaction. Such proliferation of big data has made it possible for both governments to empirically analyze questions that earlier could be addressed only theoretically. In particular, big data permits us to study behavior at both a high level of disaggregation and a high time frequency. For example, what is a household’s spending behavior and how does it depend on changes in interest rates, asset prices, or political events? Whether an incarcerated person is eligible for parole or may prospectively be dependent on the welfare system or has the rights to vote? Examples of the use of big data to shape policy can be found in areas as diverse as criminal justice, homeland security and how citizens interact with the welfare and criminal justice system.

This session will address the following questions:

  • How is the proliferation of data shaping the relationship between the citizen and the state? What implications does this have for the notion of free will?
  • How is the proliferation of big data and accompanying AI technology shape the state’s authority and expectations of transparency and accountability of its decision-making on the part of citizens?
  • Do algorithms accurately reflect social norms around what is acceptable social, political and economic behavior on the part of the citizens?
  • If not, what aspects of our political processes should be altered to give citizens a greater say in the nature and implicit judgements that algorithms impress upon society?
  • What is the future of privacy laws, and to what extent are citizens aware and willing to allow the state to use particular aspects of their demographic profile or social, economic and political behavior to regulate the relationship?

A dialogue on these questions will address several aspects of the Cape Town Global Action Plan, most notably on the objectives of the following strategic goals:

  1. Strategic Area 2 (Objectives 2.1, 2.3): Innovation and modernization of national statistical systems
  2. Strategic Area 5 (Objective 5.1): Multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development data – data captured and technology developed by private sector firms will be a more prominent part of how official statistics are compiled and used