Anxious to not be Identified in the Age of Social Media: Data Privacy and Visibility in Postcolonial India

Authors: Pawan Singh*, Deakin UNiversity
Topics: Communication, Social Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Data privacy, anxiety, desire, visibility
Session Type: Paper
Scheduler ID: FRI-048-3:20 p.m.
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Napoleon A1, Sheraton, 3rd Floor


An ongoing contentious public debate on the rights of Indian citizens to privacy in the context of the creep of the Indian government’s ‘aadhaar’ (foundation in Hindi) biometric identity project culminated recently when the Indian Supreme Court held privacy to be a fundamental right. While the court’s 2017 ruling linked privacy to various integral aspects of democratic life including free speech, bodily autonomy, personal data security and individual dignity, critics of the government’s biometric identity project, intended for the delivery of essential goods and services, have warned of the state surveillance of individuals in the name of transparent governance. They have raised an alarm about the loss of control over one’s personal data that may be (mis) used by the state towards social profiling on the basis of tastes, habits, location, identity and political speech. Through a close reading of media and legal debates on privacy, this paper discusses how the anxiety about the loss of control over personal data remains fraught with the contradiction of the simultaneous desire for online publicity in the age of social media. Drawing upon media and technology studies, legal studies and social geography, the paper coins the concept of “anxieties of recognition”, which pertain to the identification and visibility of the individual through various uses of information technologies. It concludes that individual identification/visibility emerge as the site of irreconcilable fetishization of eagerly sought everyday online publicity and desire for data privacy in the contemporary postcolonial Indian and broader transnational context.

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