Designing for democracy: Bulk data and authoritarianism

Scott Robbins, Adam Henschke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    Transparency is important for liberal democracies; however, the value of transparency is difficult to articulate. In this article we articulate transparency as an instrumental value for providing what we call ensurance and assurance to liberal democratic citizens. Ensurance refers to the property of liberal democracies which prevents it from sliding into authoritarianism and assurance is the property whereby citizens are assured that ensurance exists. Looking at the rise of bulk data collection and use afforded by information communication technologies, this paper focuses on the way that technologies disrupt relations between the state and its citizens, and suggests Value Sensitive Design as a methodology to protect key aspects of liberal democracies. Bulk data collection makes the achieving of ensurance and assurance more difficult due to two types of opacity which arise as a result of the practice: technical opacity—the difficulty for citizens to understand the technology behind bulk data collection; and, algorithmic opacity—opacity which results from properties inherent to algorithms which guide the collection and processing of bulk data. Design requirements will be suggested to respond to the disruptions caused by ICTs between liberal democracies and their citizens which threaten the necessary value for liberal democracies of representativeness.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)582-589
    Number of pages8
    JournalSurveillance & Society
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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