In many countries, governments are more and more invested in protecting their citizens’ safety and wellbeing, whether it’s by mandating the use of seat belts, banning smoking in public places, restricting gambling, or prohibiting the use of discriminatory advertising. These attempts increasingly result in “paternalistic” policy agendas that restrict individuals’ rights and freedoms, justified by the claim that as a result of these policies, citizens’ lives will be better, healthier, and longer. Christoph Krönke, Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Assistant of Law at Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, Institute of Public Policy and Law, is examining different ways that life is enhanced through government paternalism. In his research for The Enhancing Life Project, he is developing and systematizing the general legal principles for enhancing life through government paternalism.
Read Christoph Krönke's blog post on data paternalism and enhancing life here.
What was the spark for the research you’re pursuing for the Enhancing Life Project? Are these new questions, or an extension of past research, or both?
I’ve done a lot of work on constitutional law and fundamental rights, but also administrative law: essentially, questions related to the relationship between the state and the citizens. In 2014, a couple of months before I applied for the Project, I read a few articles in German newspapers about a new initiative conducted by the federal government of Germany that would do research on the quality of life of German citizens, for the purpose of taking concrete steps to make life better. And at that point, I asked myself, what is the specific role of government with respect to the enhancement of the lives of its citizens? And what if the citizens have a different view? It seemed like a very important question, and one that I wanted to explore further, so that’s how I came to investigate this issue of paternalism: how it works, and what are its limits.
What does “enhancing life” mean for you? In what way will your project contribute to the enhancement of life?
My project tries to find an answer to that question by asking another question: Who should decide what an enhanced life is? Is it the government or is it the individual? For a libertarian, the answer would be simple. The individual gets to decide. If he or she wants to drink, smoke, gamble, it’s up to him or her to do so. But if you are a liberal, you’d probably say that the government has certain responsibilities with respect to the wellbeing of its citizens.
There’s another dimension that I’m exploring, with regard to data protection issues: essentially, it’s about how your personal data can be used by businesses or the government. Here, with big companies, for instance, we’re not seeing the traditional relationship between government and the individual. It’s not a state authority collecting the data, it’s private corporations collecting data disclosed by individuals. How should the government protect the individuals from their own actions, with respect to the disclosure of their personal data?
What’s the most surprising or interesting challenge you’ve encountered so far in your Enhancing Life Project research?
Governmental paternalism is a rather traditional topic in jurisprudence. After all, it’s about the fundamental questions: what is the role of the government, what is the relationship between the government and its citizens. So even with a new issue like data collection, which obviously wasn’t relevant in the 19th century, you can still ask these questions.
But sometimes the concepts do need to be adjusted. For example, big data means that private entities are able to analyze masses of data and say that if someone lives in a certain district of a town, it’s likely that he is not financially reliable and won’t be able to pay back a loan. In these cases, it’s not so much about the individual who discloses his own data but a private entity making assumptions about that individual based on masses of data produced by other individuals. So perhaps the disclosure of one individual’s data is relevant to third parties as well.
How do public debates shape your work? What are you hoping to offer those debates?
I want to give some ideas or directions about how to implement rules about data protection on the national level. In this respect I hope to contribute to the political and the legal discussion in Germany. There are new regulations on data protection in Europe, and the standard is quite high. But one question is whether this high standard is equally adequate with regard to both state authorities and private entities. The European regulations don’t make a distinction at all, but I would argue that the threats connected to data collection by government authorities are much more serious. The government can enforce their agenda more easily and interfere with the rights of citizens.
You don’t spend all of your time doing research and teaching! What’s your favorite place to travel, or the next place you’d like to go?
I want to go to Canada because when the scholars met last summer in Banff, I didn’t make it to Vancouver. I’ve heard the quality of life there is very good and I want to check out the area: maybe Vancouver Island. I’ve heard it’s very nice to hike around there.