Consumers vs. Citizens in Democracy's Public Sphere

From foreign intervention in free elections to the rise of the American surveillance state, the Internet has transformed the relationship between the public and private sectors, especially democracy’s public sphere. The global pandemic only further highlights the extent to which technological innovation is changing how we live, work, and play. What has too often gone unacknowledged is that the same revolution has produced a series of conflicts between our desires as consumers and our duties as citizens. Left unaddressed, the consequence is a moral vacuum that has become a threat to liberal democracy and human values.

Surveillance in the Internet Age, whether by governments or companies, often relies on algorithmic searches of big data. Statistical machine learning algorithms are group-based. Liberal democracy, in contrast, is individual-based, in that it is individuals whose rights are the chief focus of constitutional protection. Algorithmic opacity, which can be the product of trade secrets, expert specialization or probabilistic design,3 poses additional challenges for self-government because it by definition abstracts away the individual on which a rights-based regime depends. Even with attentiveness to constitutional constraints, NSA surveillance, as Edward Snowden revealed, violated the right to privacy that all American citizens have, leading to revision of the Patriot Act. Europe’s privacy protection standards are even higher, restricting second- and third-hand use of customer data. READ THE ARTICLE.


CITATION:  Stanger, Allison. “Consumers vs. Citizens in Democracy’s Public Sphere.” Accessed March 18, 2023.