Data Surveillance Since the Snowden Revelations: A Grotian Moment in International Law?

In: Grotiana
Milan Tahraoui Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg/Berlin, Germany,

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Mass data surveillance practices have received heightened attention in international law since the Snowden revelations of 2013. In this article, I examine whether that attention has given rise to a “Grotian moment” regarding the regulation of these activities under international law. At the outset, I answer that question in the negative and conclude that no general customary international law rules have emerged. Yet, that is not the end of the story. At a more fundamental and conceptual level, far reaching transformative process are underway in international law within the context of datafication. These concern new forms of power and/or control over data flows, and data surveillance practices are an inherent feature of that power. I contend that although there is no accelerated process of customary international law formation regarding data surveillance activities, it may be that a prolonged, epochal, Grotian moment is taking place. To that end, I argue that data surveillance must be understood as one manifestation of a broader constellation of shifts, through which ‘developments that profoundly impact the logic of territory or/and the “logic of capital” without signalling the arrival of a new international order’ are arguably in the making.

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