Elizabeth M. RenierisMar 31, 2023
Reclaiming Human Rights at the Dawn of the Metaverse
MIT Press 2023
Why laws focused on data cannot effectively protect people—and how an approach centered on human rights offers the best hope for preserving human dignity and autonomy in a cyberphysical world.
Ever-pervasive technology poses a clear and present danger to human dignity and autonomy, as many have pointed out. And yet, for the past fifty years, we have been so busy protecting data that we have failed to protect people. In Beyond Data: Reclaiming Human Rights at the Dawn of the Metaverse (MIT Press, 2023), Elizabeth Renieris argues that laws focused on data protection, data privacy, data security and data ownership have unintentionally failed to protect core human values, including privacy. And, as our collective obsession with data has grown, we have, to our peril, lost sight of what’s truly at stake in relation to technological development—our dignity and autonomy as people.
Far from being inevitable, our fixation on data has been codified through decades of flawed policy. Renieris provides a comprehensive history of how both laws and corporate policies enacted in the name of data privacy have been fundamentally incapable of protecting humans. Her research identifies the inherent deficiency of making data a rallying point in itself—data is not an objective truth, and what’s more, its “entirely contextual and dynamic” status makes it an unstable foundation for organizing. In proposing a human rights–based framework that would center human dignity and autonomy rather than technological abstractions, Renieris delivers a clear-eyed and radically imaginative vision of the future.
At once a thorough application of legal theory to technology and a rousing call to action, Beyond Data boldly reaffirms the value of human dignity and autonomy amid widespread disregard by private enterprise at the dawn of the metaverse.
Jake Chanenson is a computer science Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago. Broadly, Jake is interested in topics relating to HCI, privacy, and tech policy. Jake’s work has been published in top venues such as ACM’s CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.