Earlier today I started reading Blacklisted, an account of the extensive blacklisting in the construction industry that was exposed by an investigation by the Information Commissioner. For those unfamiliar with the case:
In 2009, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) exposed details of a large-scale surveillance operation run by a company called The Consulting Association. This company collated files on thousands of construction workers, as well as academics and journalists, and sold the information to 44 construction companies. The Director of The Consulting Association, Ian Kerr, was fined just £5,000 and all 44 companies escaped without penalty or punishment.
Many of these workers had their lives ruined, unable to find employment in the construction industry, blacklisted for their trade union activities or for raising health and safety concerns.
The thought I can’t shake is how archaic the technology used to implement this blacklist was. A man in an office effectively kept a ring binder with names, updated via tips from aggrieved employers supplemented by newspaper cuttings from the radical press.
I can’t be the only person who’s had the idea of algorithmic blacklisting: using social media data and natural language processing to flag up ‘problematic’ workers in order to place them on a blacklist i.e. replacing newspaper cuttings with big data. How would we even know if this technology was implemented?