Defining social contracts
Social contracts refer to the implicit relationship between people and their government. For example, citizens implicitly agree to abide by laws in exchange for safety and security provided by their government. The term can also refer to similar assumptions and agreements between individuals and corporations, or between one another.
Human rights are a set of moral principles and norms that describe certain standards of human behavior. Although they are still valid and define our implicit social contracts, they are rapidly being outdated due to capitalistic, technological, and other structural disruptions. Moreover, they have led to significant erosion and change in the assumptions people have of their government or corporate stewards.
Digital data from individuals, either acknowledged, voluntary, or involuntary, represent a valuable asset from each person. They represent part of each individuals behavior, and can be seen as a trail of data that can be protected, exploited, and/or managed. How will the current and upcoming global society consider existing and future data sets as individuals rights, and how should they be stewarded to uphold new social contracts?
Here are some examples of new social contracts derived from each individuals data:
FinnGen, a government-led genetics program in Finland, was launched in 2017 with the aim of collecting biological samples from 500,000 participants over six years with the aim of improving health through genetic research (https://www.finngen.fi/en). Imagine such genetic mapping, with functional genetics interpretation and behavioral data from social networks being used to predict action. Analogous to Minority Report, where individuals were caught before committing a crime.
What about the social currency/credit being developed and applied in China? Your behavior as an individual within your environment is being captured and used to rank each citizen amongst the others. Bad driving, smoking in non-smoking areas, posting fake news, etc. are some actions that will bring your score down, hence some implications such as: banning from flying or using a train, downgrade your Internet speed, ban access to your kids to best schools, etc..
Digital contract tracing of Covid-19. Willingness to download digital contract tracing apps to fight the spread of Covid-19 is another example of the shifting social contact and unclear fundamental rights around personal data. Several countries in the east have implemented digital contact tracing to substantial effect in tracking spread (which benefits citizens’ life, finances, and liberties), while the majority of countries in the west have very low adoption rates of digital contact tracing, for fears of privacy invasion and exploitation. Meanwhile, the virus surges. This illustrates unclear trade-offs between personal data, civil liberties, health, and gov/org-administered services, and the potential opportunity if fundamental rights were better defined.