This piece was originally published in Open Democracy on 10th July 2015.
The growing availability of digital data and data technologies has led many civil society groups, governments, and international organisations to talk of a “data revolution”. But what kinds of political projects, models of citizenship and forms of action will such a data revolution enable? And whom will it ultimately serve?
Following debates about open government amongst political actors from the White House to Wikileaks, you could be forgiven for thinking that the critical political question around digital data generated by states is what information is disclosed to whom.
Leakers, hackers and whistleblowers transgress disclosure rules to bring caches of data to the masses, arguing that the sunlight of public scrutiny should be allowed to shine in on documents which were previously dark.
In parallel, the concept of “open data” has gained significant traction amongst transparency activists and amongst politicians in some of the world’s most powerful nations. Advocates of open data often focus on how information is released, arguing for legal and technical modes of disclosure which enable everything from new kinds of computational analysis to glittering ecosystems of web services and applications.
But a politics of public information predominantly focused on the transparency, disclosure and “opening up” of official information risks overlooking several critical parts of the bigger picture – including what information is generated, who uses it to what end, and how it organises collective life.