Inoculation of data

Gough, Tim (2008) Inoculation of data. In: Ethics, Technology and Identity; 18 - 20 Jun 2008, Delft/The Hague, Netherlands. (Unpublished)


David Velleman, in his paper How we get along (2007), quotes Blackburn on a limitation of analytical moral philosophy in respect of �the social as a determining feature of individual action and motivation� (Ruling Passions, 1998). This is in accordance with the phenomenon that a position�s strengths are generally much the same as its supposed weaknesses: to proceed in analytic fashion, in moral philosophy as elsewhere, is to focus on the particular, the dissolving or breaking-down of issues (Greek: analuein). This strength on the part of analytic philosophy tends to discourage the question of the social (as a subset, we could say, of all holistic questions, and such phenomena as existentialism, gestalt psychology etc). In this respect, we may consider that the question of the identity of the individual, particularly in respect of technology and new media, is not only one which lends itself effectively to an analytic approach (given the structural consonance between the particular and the individual), but that this question will only have become both possible and significant in the modern era, post-Descartes. In other words, we posit a feedback mechanism, a movement to-and-fro, operating through time, history and tradition, between philosophy, the possibilities it opens up, and the ways in which society �expresses� itself (via politics, law, institutions, technology), its concerns and its members. Now, within the analytical philosophy of this movement, the social does not at all disappear; rather, its analysis is generally and necessarily located after the positing and analysis of the individual and the particular. Thus the importance of disciplines such as psychology, that is, disciplines which, on the basis of the particular, look at connections between those particulars. For instance, David Shoemaker will state (in Reductionist Contractualism 2000), �I have very good reasons�. for cultivating� justifiability to all other selves with whom I am psychologically connected, given that they are, in a very real sense, extensions of me.� Here, the self, the individual, comes first in the analysis, to be followed by the question of how this self becomes or is connected. By contrast, avowedly holistic and anti-Cartesian discourses such as existentialism (most notoriously, Heidegger�s starting-point of Dasein) will tend to avoid positing individuals prior to �the whole� (however this is characterised) and will therefore not include psychological issues within their ambit. Of course, in each case, the starting point will be in some way overturned; Dasein retains an inevitably individualistic tone; Shoemaker states elsewhere by means of modus tollens (in The Irrelevance/incoherence of non-reductionism about personal identity 2002) that �[i]t is not the case that questions of identity will always have determinate answers. Thus, we are not separately existing entities.� This paper will suggest a systems approach to the question of ethics, the production of identity and the question of the �self� in respect of information technology; this is, the issue of the feedbacks occurring between thought (in all its guises), the possibilities opened by it, technology, law and politics will be foregrounded. Digital computers and their associated databases, as particular phenomena, can only be established, improved and in themselves correctly understood by means of analytical research; this does not necessarily rule out a non-analytic approach in respect of their encompassing �ecology�. The systems-approach to the ecology of databases will in this paper have an eye to such post-Nietzschian thought as that of Deleuze (in Difference and Repetition) and Derrida (in Différance 1967), in the sense that both start from the idea and experience of difference from which any concept of identity or sameness will come to be derived. Identity is constructed, in a ecological and hyper-mobile system of thought, law, politics and information technology. How, alongside (not contra) other approaches, might this inherently ambiguous enterprise help clarify ethical issues? � the specifics of individual cultures will be noted. Currently, the UK government is proceeding with development of a universal database of its residents, linked to an identity card supposedly guaranteed by biometric data (fingerprints, iris scans�). In a country with no tradition of identity cards - the very suggestion has only been possible in an atmosphere of �war on terror� - this endeavour has an ethical and political meaning different to other European states, and provides an example of how politicians can, by manipulating terminology (in this case, of �war�, since the only precedent in the UK for identity cards was the second world war) achieve technical results � similarly, the project of a universal UK health-care database, accessible in principle at all health-service locations and potentially by hundreds of thousands of individuals (including non-health-case professionals) is justified on broad technical grounds � that is, the more efficient use of state healthcare funds and the better care of patients. It is becoming increasingly clear that any digital database is per se vulnerable to inappropriate revelation, viz the recent loss of CD-ROMs with financial and identity details of 7 million children from the UK tax authorities. Politicians claim incorrectly that this vulnerability is a technical question amenable to technical (IT security) solutions; in fact, it is an ecological (and thus properly political) question relating to the human-centred environment in which the data is used. It is therefore per se not possible to protect against such security breaches by means of a technical solution. But in respect of health-care information, the status of the press, the privacy laws governing what it can reveal (and therefore how it can make its money) vary from state to state (compare the UK with France) and thus the ethic import of the necessary possibility of such security breaches will tend to vary. Similarly in the interaction with other fields such as insurance The paper will hypothesise a structural (arguably ethical and political) law in respect of these issues. This law states that in order for the development of technologically-driven databases relating to citizens to proceed, the data collected must necessarily be �inoculated�, that is, made relatively innocuous compared to the data�s previous status in a particular society. Since IT security is no defense against the data�s release, there will inevitably be a tendency for the data to become or be made �worthless� � which will be a structural, not-get-roundable defense. This movement is already inherent and effective in the project of transparency, freedom of information, secularisation and emancipation of western social structures. It is only possible for a doctor�s surgery to ask a patient their religion and record it in their database (as happens in the UK) if this information is relatively innocuous and does not lead to, say, persecution or prejudice against the individual. This goes for all data. The paper will conclude with a brief discussion of the possible consequences of this �law� of inoculation/innocuation for politics, ethics and the status of the individual.

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