You’re invited to a special teaching talk about personal data control!

You’re invited to a special teaching talk!
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 11:00am, CCT3000

Can We Control Big Data? Assessing Global Perspectives on Personal Data Sovereignty

The ICCIT will welcome its next guest speaker, Jonathan Obar, from the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, on Wednesday, March 20th at 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, Room 3000, CCT Building.

Personal data sovereignty, or the ability for individual users to control their own data, has become a public policy challenge for governments across the globe. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) have proposed data protection guidelines, and an increasing number of countries are advancing their own data sovereignty initiatives – the U.S. Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and updates to the EU’s Data Protection Directive are two prominent examples.

Repurposing Walter Lippmann’s Phantom Public, this presentation argues that recent calls for individual data control by the OECD, the ITU and various countries present a fallacy of personal data sovereignty. Even if we had the faculties and the system, the digital citizen has little interest or time for big data governance. We want privacy, and safety, but cannot and will not do all that is required for its protection. If the application of Lippmann is correct, then perhaps a pragmatic solution is representative data sovereignty; a combination of for-profit/non-profit digital dossier management and government oversight ensuring the protection of personal data, while freeing individuals from what Lippmann referred to as an ‘unattainable ideal’.


Jonathan Obar, PhD is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, visiting assistant professor in Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University and associate director of the Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law (MSU). Dr. Obar is also a senior advisor with the Wikimedia Foundation’s Global Education Program, and a Media Policy Fellow with the New America Foundation.

Jonathan’s research has been published in a variety of academic journals, and generally focuses on the impact that digital technologies have on civil liberties, civic engagement and the inclusiveness of public culture in Canada and around the world.

Current work includes participation in the Open Society Foundation’s 60+ country Mapping Digital Media initiative, the Communication Research in Action: International Perspectives book project (, and the SurveillanceWatch and IXmaps counter-surveillance initiatives at UofT.

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