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Data Governance and Modern Computer Systems

Alastair R Beresford and Martin Kleppmann

British Academy and Royal Society workshop on the governance of data and its uses, London, UK, July 2016.

We were invited to contribute a provocation paper to this interdisciplinary workshop, which brought together lawyers, philosophers, historians, social scientists and computer scientists to better understand the key social and ethical aspects of data governance and how they are related.

Our paper observes that modern computer systems consist of many different layers and components, often provided by many different companies, distributed across multiple jurisdictions. There are both intended and unintended interactions between these components, and software is often vulnerable and buggy, making it very difficult to reliably enforce data governance policies. In this context we call for policymakers to consider not only high-level access control policies, but also the underlying infrastructure.