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Social, Legal, And Ethical Issues in the Modern Database Era

In the past two decades, database-relevant issues have become intense, considering the all-penetrating nature of the data collection. Approaching social, legal, and ethical concerns of modern database society might be challenging as we have entered a new digitised era of Big Data Revolution. It means that nowadays, society is facing an exponential growth of data that is collected and used by corporations and the government.

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Every side of a human’s life, from online shopping to medical treatment, is being ciphered, recorded, collected, and shared with third parties. There are more and more places where cameras fix each step of a stranger. Life on Earth will never be the same again, and there is no backtracking. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that this unprecedented phenomenon has not yet been comprehended. Consequently, a reasonable course of action has not been developed. Although this is a vast domain, there are still several areas that should be given priority consideration.

The first thing that should be done in the view of enormous data circulation throughout the world is developing the Database Society Ethics. Hohtl, Paricek and Schollhammer (2016, p. 156) argue that “this raises intricate questions about how to ensure that discriminatory effects resulting from, for example, automated decision processes can be detected, measured, and redressed. Detailed knowledge about citizens makes it possible to forecast public behaviour with high precision. And further, “Big Data holds much potential, but it can put civil liberty under pressure” (Hohtl, Paricek & Shlollhammer 2016, p. 156).

The essential values of modern Western society are confidentiality and privacy. Still, people do not even realise how much personal information is being collected, stored, and shared with third parties. The priority task today is to balance these values with the uses of big data not to abandon the values our society treasures.

According to Richards and King (2014, p. 396), four paramount high-level principles could advance the development of ethics for the new database society. First, the notion of privacy should be reconsidered and better understood. Privacy it has transformed, and thus it should not be interpreted as the ability to keep information secret.

In this view, it is crucial to develop new privacy “self-management” that will allow managing accelerating information flows ethically. If there is an opportunity to teach people how to manage the data that are gathered, it should be given to them. Second principle concerns “understanding that shared private information can remain confidential” (Richards and King, 2014, p. 396), which is supposed to help individuals better see how to align their expectations of privacy with the rapidly growing secondary uses of big data analytics.

The third ethical principle is transparency of the Big Data, which is intended to “prevent abuses of institutional power while also encouraging individuals to feel safe in sharing more relevant data to make better big data predictions for our society” (Richards and King, 2014, p. 396). And the last ethical principle suggested by Richards and King (2014, p. 397) concerns identity. Data collected by corporations and the government can compromise identity before it has been realised by an individual. So, the questions that might be corrosive and offensive to consumers, patients, users in general, should be prohibited thus protecting people’s sensitive areas like gender, race, sex, family issues and others. Therefore, the most sensitive ethical issues concerning the uprising database society have not been addressed yet but only outlined.

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Another issue under consideration in this paper is how these ethical principles are implemented today and protected legally in the UK. The use of any personal data obtained by organisations, businesses, and by the government is controlled by the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act states “data protection principles” that must be followed by everyone responsible for using personal data. The stronger level of protection is ensured for more sensitive information such as religious beliefs, race, ethnic background, genetics, biometrics, health, sex life of orientation.

The most significant thing secured by this Act is the right of the individual to know what information the government and other organisations store about them, and how it is being used (The Data Protection Act 2018). Another essential aspect here is differentiating between personal and private data. Private data are those access to which is not permitted by an individual. They are governed by privacy norms that refer to relationships between those individuals (or groups) and others.

On the one hand, various legislative acts govern to some extent the using of the big data, while on the other hand, there is how these norms and regulations might be implemented in practice and through what means. The most demanding area for personal data dealing with the most sensitive information concerning health is biomedical research and health care. Significantly, the measures applied to protect the interests of citizens are operations that alter the data in order to de-identify them, and controls on access to data so that the data are only made available to authorised users.

Technical measures used to prevent the identification of individual subjects include aggregation, anonymisation or pseudonymization of data, while a standard control is to limit access to data in accordance with consent (Mostert et al., 2017, p. 957) Though, it might be complicated to prove in Court damage done by the injurious data misuse. The latest research conducted by van der Sloot (2016, p. 19) shows that “cases are declared inadmissible if they do not revolve around individual harm.” Therefore, in terms of legislation, there is still a great deal to be done to secure integrity and inviolability of personal data.

The last issue under discussion in the present paper is the social aspect of the database era. As opposed to ethical and legal concerns expressed in the previous paragraphs, some positive aspects are worth mentioning. Many social issues are being solved with the help of big data today. When used responsibly, big data use might benefit society immensely.

They are six areas where the use of it can result in societal benefit, namely “improved decision making and event detection, including efficient resource allocation; data-driven innovations, including new business models; direct social, environmental and other citizen benefits; citizen participation, transparency and public trust; privacy-aware data practices; and big data for identifying discrimination” (Cuquet et al., 2017). The simplest examples of social issues that can be solved with the help of big data are reducing traffic congestions and improving efficiency on roads.

Therefore, the most intriguing aspects of the modern database era have been discussed, some of which, like ethical and legal, provoke negative attitudes to the phenomenon of Big Data. However, many social issues can be addressed with the help of data sets. Inevitably, technological progress cannot be stopped, and everything accomplished by humanity in the informational domain does not belong to human beings anymore as it shows signs of snowball effect. The only thing that can be done now is to adapt the society and each individual to this new environment created in the era of database society.

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Reference List

Cuquet, M. et al. (2017) ‘Societal impacts of big data: challenges and opportunities in europe’ Available at: arXiv preprint arXiv:1704.03361.

Höchtl, J., Parycek, P. and Schöllhammer, R. (2016) ‘Big data in the policy cycle: policy decision making in the digital era’ Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 26(1-2), pp.147-169.

Mostert, M. et al. (2016) ‘Big data in medical research and EU data protection law: challenges to the consent or anonymize approach’ European Journal of Human Genetics, 24(7), p. 956.

Richards, N. M. and King, J., ‘Big data ethics (2014)Wake Forest Law Review, 2014. Web.

The Data Protection Act 2018. Web.

Van der Sloot, B. (2016) ‘Is the human rights framework still fit for the big data era? a discussion of the ECtHR’s case law on privacy violations arising from surveillance activities’ In data protection on the move. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 411-436.

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