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Safeguarding Individual Rights and Liberties

Picture of the United States Constitution

Digital technologies — computers, internet, social media — have transformed the way individuals, groups and societies operate.

In doing so, they have brought about new threats and challenges. For example, they have given governments the tools to censor human expression, spread disinformation and monitor human activity on an unprecedented scale. The recent scandal involving Facebook, Cambridge University and Cambridge Analytica brought into sharp relief dilemmas that arise in data-sharing between universities and private companies. Techno-pessimists raise the specter of a social catastrophe, but there is little empirical evidence on whether the efforts of governments and other actors to control information are effective. Is social media a threat to democracy? Do these efforts suppress dissent, political participation and social mobilization? Do these efforts undermine democracy and facilitate authoritarian rule? On the other hand, one can argue that the same data sources can be used to protect individual liberties: For example, data from GPS-enabled mobile devices can be used to monitor displacements of individuals in areas of conflict, to “count” segments of the population that official sources underestimate, to measure segregation and to identify the location of individuals that have been apprehended by an authoritarian regime.

Combining expertise in data science and social science will provide us with a unique opportunity to define a new search agenda in this space and help us move toward better media and a more informed society.

Examples of faculty working in the area include Jen Pan, Matt Gentzkow, and David Grusky, David Studdert and Jure Leskovec.