Exploring the role of technology for democracy – 5in10 with Cristina Blasi Casagran
Cristina Blasi is Assistant Professor in EU law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a re:constitution Fellow 2020/21 at the Forum Transregionale Studien with a project on “The Role of Technology in Enriching Participatory Democracy in the EU”. Cristina completed her PhD in Law at the European University Institute (Florence, 2015), in which she specialised on EU privacy and data protection law. She is a Lecturer of EU Law and Public Participation in the EU institutions in the Law Faculty, and is currently coordinating the H2020 project “IT tools and methods to manage migration flows” (ITFLOWS) and the Erasmus+ Jean Monnet Modules EUCONAS.
What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
I think as a child I always knew I wanted to become an educator. I would always play at being a teacher in a class full of students. Today I work as a lecturer in the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and I do not think this is a coincidence at all. I love sharing knowledge with people, either with my students or with other researchers and lecturers with similar interests. For me it seems that, if you learn something and you do not communicate it to the world, this knowledge loses all purpose. I constantly seek to learn new things myself, so working as a researcher, I found out that a profession and a hobby do not have to be two separate things.
How do you explain your current research project to your students and your colleagues?
My project with re:constitution aims at exploring the role of technology in democratic processes. I am particularly interested in analysing how data processes by social networks could ultimately influence polls in democratic elections. Among students and colleagues, I am trying to create awareness of the existence of practices such as ‘microtargeting’ (techniques usually used by online platforms based on classifying and segmenting the ‘voter market’), which all of us are exposed to if we use social networks. I believe that whilst people are much more aware of things like ‘Fake News’ and the growing influence of social media on elections, there is still a lack of knowledge about how sharing personal data via social networks can benefit political parties in their campaigns and their influence on voters.
Which stations of your academic journey were particularly formative to you?
I spent 1.5 years prior to my PhD working at the following European institutions and bodies: the European Commission, the European Data Protection Supervisor, and Europol. Those experiences were extremely formative and gave me a rounded, practical perspective for conducting my lectures and research in the field of EU law. Furthermore, my MA at Europa Institut (Saarbrücken) and my PhD at European University Institute (Florence) were key for developing new methodological skills, creativity and critical thinking for my projects and publications.
How are you ‘doing’ research? What are your most important research methods?
I tend to use qualitative methods based on secondary source research and interviews with experts or persons of interest. In the field of law there are so many legal instruments and accompanying case laws that requires analysis and interpretation. For instance, in my current research I am examining how to align the GDPR with technological systems such as microtargeting, which has no express regulation in the law. One of my main research goals is to fill the gaps that are present between the existing regulations and the available technology.
Which academic or public debates inspired you recently?
My main inspiration recently comes from the academic debates I am engaged in as part of theH2020 project ITFLOWS that I’m coordinating. It gathers experts, from institutions all over Europe, who have different backgrounds, but with one united goal: improving the management of migration flows in the EU. In general, I believe that academic events and debates are essential for the improvement of policies and regulations around the world, so I am really excited to be part of such a community through my projects and contributions.
Citation: Exploring the role of technology for democracy – 5in10 with Cristina Blasi Casagran, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 09.02.2021, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/26507