For centuries, governments have identified people by their birthplace, their nationality, and their place of residence. But today, there’s a fourth dimension: personal data. And it’s significantly more complicated to pin down. Personal data can be in multiple places at once. It’s split up, fragmented, multiplied, and dispersed. Sometimes, we don’t even know where our files, emails, and photos are stored at all. Whether we choose to be or not, online, we end up citizens of the world. Reacting to this new reality, governments have passed laws to regulate what companies can do with our data, where, and to what end. In May, the E.U. formally adopted the GDPR, a set of regulations concerning the privacy rights of European “data subjects” (defined, oddly, as individuals who are the subjects of data). This law applies globally. At the other end of the spectrum, countries are attempting to repatriate citizen data and bring it under national jurisdiction. As of 2015, Russia has mandated that its citizens’ data be stored within territorial borders. China requires the same for local companies, and new rules will force foreign firms doing business with Chinese ones to comply as well. This talk will show how the question of where our data “lives” — and more significantly, who has access to it — is one that’s becoming a major concern to governments around the world. It will analyze new legal developments, raising questions about whether we are seeing a kind of digital nationalism emerge. Finally, it will attempt to untangle what it means to be a ‘data subject’, and how this category of belonging squares with older notions of citizenship and nationality.
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian is a Senior Editor at The Nation and a journalist based in Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, the London Review of Books, and other publications. She has worked as an opinion editor at Al Jazeera America and a general news and business reporter for Reuters. Atossa grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, and studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Columbia University, where she returned for a master’s program in investigative reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @atossaaraxia