The Surveillance Gap: The Harms of Extreme Privacy and Data Marginalization
42 NYU Review of Law and Social Change 253 (2018)
55 Pages Posted: 9 May 2018
Date Written: May 3, 2018
We live in an age of unprecedented surveillance, enhanced by modern technology, prompting some to suggest that privacy is dead. Previous scholarship suggests that no subset of the population feels this phenomenon more than marginalized communities. Those who rely on public benefits, for example, must turn over personal information and submit to government surveillance far more routinely than wealthier citizens who enjoy greater opportunity to protect their privacy and the ready funds to secure it. This article illuminates the other end of the spectrum, arguing that many individuals who may value government and nonprofit services and legal protections fail to enjoy these benefits because they reside in a “surveillance gap.” These people include undocumented immigrants, day laborers, homeless persons, and people with felony conviction histories suffering collateral consequences of their convictions. Members of these groups often remain outside of the mainstream data flows and institutional attachments necessary to flourish in American society. The harms that surveillance gap residents experience can be severe, such as physical and mental health injuries and lack of economic stability, as well as data marginalization and resulting invisibility to policymakers. In short, having too much privacy can be as injurious as having too little.
The sources of the surveillance gap range from attempts to contain and control marginalized groups to data silos to economic exploitation. This article explores the boundaries of the surveillance gap, evaluates how this emerging concept fits within existing privacy paradigms and theoretical frameworks, and suggests possible solutions to enhance the autonomy and dignity of marginalized people within the surveillance gap.
Keywords: privacy, surveillance, big data, poverty, low wage work, homelessness, voting, collateral consequences
JEL Classification: I30, I31, I38, J83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation