The right of access to personal data: A genealogy

  • René Mahieu Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Keywords: Right of Access to Personal Data, Due Process, Informational Self-Determination, Power, Information Asymmetry, Civil Rights, GDPR


In this paper, I analyze several traditions of data protection to uncover the theoretical justification they provide for the right of access to personal data. Contrary to what is argued in most recent literature, I do not find support for the claim that the right follows from the German tradition of “informational self-determination” or Westin’s idea of “privacy as control”. Instead, there are two other less known theories of data protection which do offer a direct justification for the right of access. First, American scholars Westin and Baker developed the “due process” view according to which access helps to expose error and bias in decision-making, thereby contributing to correct decisions and allowing the people who are affected to be involved in the decision making. Second, in what I call the “power reversal” view of access, Italian legal scholar Rodotà argues that, in particular when seen from a collective point of view, the right enables social control over the processing of personal data and serves as a counterbalance to the centers of power by placing them under the control of democratic accountability.

How to Cite
Mahieu, René. 2021. “The Right of Access to Personal Data: A Genealogy”. Technology and Regulation 2021 (August), 62-75.