NWO Veni: Empowering Academia Through Law
Transparency Rights As Enablers For Research In A Black Box Society
Academics are increasingly confronted with unwarranted obstacles in accessing the data required to pursue their role as critical knowledge-institution and public watchdog. An important reason behind this, is the increasing centralisation and privatisation of data infrastructures underlying society. The corporations managing our data-infrastructures have strong (legal, technical, and economic) disincentives to share the vast amounts of data they control with academia, effectively reinforcing the ‘black box society. As a result, there is an important power asymmetry over access to data and who effectively defines research agendas. Calls for more transparency from academia and civil society have been largely unsuccessful and efforts to scrutinise data practices in other ways often run into a range of hurdles. At the same time, existing frameworks and new policy proposals on algorithmic transparency and open science/data remain abstract.
Against this backdrop, this project explores how the law – ie transparency obligations and data access rights – can be used as a tool for breaking through these asymmetries by the academic research community (and by extension, investigative journalists and other civil society actors). This may appear counter-intuitive as academics are often confronted with legal arguments to prevent access to data, often for valid reasons such as privacy protection or intellectual property. Yet, these arguments are often abused as blanket restrictions, preventing more balanced solutions.
The project unpacks the many issues underlying this tension and evaluates how the respective information asymmetry between academia and big tech can be resolved in light of the fundamental rights framework (Project number: VI.Veni.201R.096).
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