Boston University School of Law


A Global Panopticon? The Changing Role of
International Organizations in the Information Age

Jennifer Shakabatur
Boston University School of Law; Harvard Law School

33(2) Mich. J. Int'l L. 159 (2011)
Boston University School of Law Working Paper 11-26


Achieving compliance is one of the most challenging aspects of international law. International organizations are entrusted with the responsibility to monitor state compliance with international obligations, but often fail to do so. International regulation therefore becomes ineffective. The Article argues that the introduction of information technologies transforms this reality.

The Article explores the powerful potential of online compliance monitoring in three major fields of international regulation: health, environment, and human rights. It demonstrates that information technologies allow international organizations to actively search for and unearth otherwise unavailable information on state compliance. As part of this, the Article provides the first legal account of how information technologies enabled the World Health Organization to overcome state resistance and detect the early signs of the recent global pandemics—SARS and Swine Flu. Further, the Article suggests how comparable measures can be adopted by other international regulatory regimes.

Discussing the normative implications of this phenomenon, the Article posits that it can generate an unprecedented “global panopticon”: a situation in which states lose control over sensitive information and can always be watched by non-governmental bodies. The Article discusses the repercussions of this new reality, and offers a legal framework that mitigates the adverse effects of this “panopticon” while bolstering its benefits.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 57

Keywords: international organizations, information technologies, internet, health, human rights, environment, compliance, monitoring

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Suggested Citation:

Jennifer Shkabatur, "Cities @ Crossroads: Digital Technology and Local Democracy in America," Brooklyn Law Review, Vol. 76, No. 4, 2011; SSRN No. 1781484.

Contact Information

Jennifer Shkabatur
Assistant Visiting Professor

Boston University School of Law
765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215