Some Reflections on Dignity as an Alternative Legal Concept in Data Protection Regulation

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As the use of the Internet and online platforms grows, the scale of collecting and processing personal data and turnovers have increased correspondingly.1 At the same time, public awareness about the Internet turning into a genuine profiling and advertisement machine, as well as a powerful surveillance instrument, grows. More people today are concerned about the ways in which public and private actors store and use private information. Many individuals note that they lose sight of the consequences once they give consent to the collection of their sometimes most intimate personal data. The Snowden revelations and the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal have only reinforced this public awareness.

Objections against these data processing practices cannot be explained as breaches of data protection or privacy regulation alone. In this Article, it is argued that recently passed regulations fail to solve the unease of data subjects as other, more fundamental values are at stake here. A different or complementary ethical and legal framework is needed to interpret this generally felt unease vis-à-vis current data practices and secondly to confront future developments on the data market. The concept of human dignity may be a helpful perspective in this respect. In the context of data processing, human dignity is generally interpreted in a quite specific manner, such as contributing to the empowerment and self-determination of autonomous individuals. It can be argued, however, that human dignity—in the context of the commodification and commoditization of online personal data—should be seen in a different, quite opposite, light. In sum, future regulation of privacy and data protection attention should shift towards more constraining dimensions of human dignity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1269-1290
Number of pages22
JournalGerman Law Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


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