Data and Democracy
Erik Carter

Data and Democracy

A symposium considering how big data is changing our system of self-government


Today, governments and private actors can collect, store, and continuously update vast troves of data. Yet we have barely begun to understand the impact on our democracy of large-scale data collection and the use of such data sets to make decisions that can dramatically impact individual lives and entire communities.

The Data and Democracy Symposium will investigate what our changing capacities to capture, analyze, and manipulate data mean for self-government, and ask how the law must adapt to ensure the conditions for a robust democracy. Organized by the Institute’s Senior Visiting Research Scholar, Yale Law Professor Amy Kapczynski, and co-sponsored by the Law and Political Economy Project at Yale Law School, the symposium will focus on three areas that are both central to democratic governance and directly affected by advancing technologies and ever-increasing data collection: 1) public opinion formation and access to information; 2) the formation and exercise of public power; and 3) the political economy of data. 

Panel links will be emailed to participants after they RSVP. We will update this page with more information closer to the date of the event.

Symposium Announcement

Paper Descriptions



  • Online

    Theories of Democratic Regulation and Lawmaking in the Big Data Era

    How do big data, artificial intelligence, and algorithmic governance influence our ability to govern ourselves democratically? Do new information technologies create new modalities or concentrations of power, and if so what should that mean for how we legislate and regulate? Does our technological landscape challenge conventional paradigms of governance that rely on individualized consent or that see markets as superior because of their ability to reflect and adapt to decentralized information? This panel will address these questions and explore the implications of increasingly data-intensive processes and technologies for how we understand political economy, privacy, and the regulatory state.


    Public Will Formation and Big Data

    Our changing capacities to capture, analyze, and manipulate data have potentially drastic implications for our ability to exercise self-government and to ensure a truly representative and participatory democracy. How do changes in how we think about and manipulate data change who we understand the public to be, and how it expresses its will? This panel will explore the social and political history of how data has been used for core political objectives like an accurate census count and voter mobilization efforts, how changing technological means to manipulate data are impacting inequality and stratification, and how law and policy should respond.


  • Online

    Data Publicity and Public Control

    Government actors are today allocating Medicaid resources, evaluating employees, conducting surveillance and criminal investigations, and making bail decisions using algorithmic and data-intensive approaches. These approaches often involve partnerships with private actors who control the development of the technology being used and the access to relevant data. This panel will contemplate whether the resulting systems can be reconciled with commitments to due process and nondiscrimination, what challenges they raise for accountability, and how courts, legislatures, and agencies should address those challenges to protect democratic prerogatives.  


    Engineering Access to Data and Algorithms

    Concerns over the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and hate online have never been higher. Similarly, the ongoing adoption of AI and machine learning tools by local, state, and federal government has generated increasing pressure for public access to information about those tools and how they are being used. Journalists, researchers, and activists say they do not have sufficient ability to access the data and information needed to hold government and powerful companies to account. But these calls for more transparency and access often collide with objections by private companies that they cannot release more data to researchers and/or the public due to privacy concerns or because the information constitutes “trade secrets.” What approaches might help secure better access to privately held data for researchers and the public in practice?  This panel will explore this question, and what it implies about the limits of traditional understandings of transparency and accountability.