Skip to main content

Imagining Digital Democracy


With all of the discussion about PRISM (including the EFF's excellent document breakdown https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/06/depth-review-new-nsa-documents-expose-how-americans-can-be-spied-without-warrant), I'm doing a lot of thinking about how our technology shapes our political structures. Consider this two core feature of democracy: The Citizen as the State. This feature is usually what is meant by "a government of the people, by the people." The citizens as a collective compose the authority of the government. In other words, all citizens have a say in governing collective matters.

Typically, we see Citizen as State established through some form of representation. With  a large or dispersed population, the election of representatives was the only way to give citizens control over government. There are clear flaws in this system, as we can see looking at our own current situation. Representatives are not always as beholden to their constituents as one would like. Winning elections, meaning funding election campaigns, is most important for a representative's career. As long as the campaign is funded, and money buys visibility and access to the public ear, the candidate need only keep donors happy. Lawrence Lessig has done a good job of discussing this problem at length.

Of course, with the communication technology we have available now, there are new ways of solving the problem of giving every citizen a say in government. Social networks and discussion forums provide a good public space for rational discourse (and less rational discourse, but let's leave that aside for now). Nevertheless, there remains a need for specialists, people who have devoted the time and training to understanding a particular field. Lawyers to explain the law and policy debates, but also scientists and engineers who can speak clearly about technical matters, educators who can explain how best to serve students, and many others.

A digital democracy may dispense with representatives but still require various specialists to spearhead communication to general audiences, explain the relevance of particular issues and legislation, and outline the results or consequences of policy decisions. In many ways, such a system would be more egalitarian. Rather than have a ruling class composed of career politicians, authority would be context sensitive. To address the needs of the education system, we should want experienced educators to provide an accurate view of what is needed. We won't need their authority when evaluating a highway development project. Context changes, authority changes. Everyone will be in charge for 15 minutes, to mutilate an Andy Warhol quote.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 1: Utilitarianism

There is no way this tutorial series would be complete without some discussion of justifications for intellectual property. While not necessarily a matter of law, some knowledge of the philosophical foundations will provide a better sense of the values at stake in intellectual property debates. Notice, for instance, that the tutorials on fair use were punctuated with appeals to values, social goods, and individual rights. Without an understanding of the moral and political framework against which the law stands, one can very easily find oneself in a stalemate, with one value pitted against another and no way of deciding which should prevail. To understand the jurisprudence around intellectual property rights, one has to have some idea of the justifying theories to which attorneys and judges appeal in their arguments and decisions. So, without further ado, let's get to the tutorial.
There are three main ways of justifying intellectual property rights: the Utilitarian theory, the Lab…

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 2: Labor-Desert Theories

I know it's been a little while, but I want to finish this tutorial series rather than abandoning it and moving on to other topics. Of course, I would have liked to have finished it by now, but various research and teaching-related obstacles have kept me nose down in the Real rather than preparing content to be released into the internet. Nevertheless, I'm returning to routine, so I'm going to release this installment today, rather than wait for my usual MWF release schedule.
At any rate, let's pick up where we left off and talk about justifications for intellectual property rights. While the utilitarian justification discussed in the last post enjoys the status of having been enshrined in law, scholars and jurists have often brought in other property-justifying theories. Perhaps the most popular of these are Labor-Desert justifications, best exemplified by John Locke (the philosopher, not the character on Lost).
In his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke const…

History and Identity

Yesterday the European Court of Justice issued an important ruling that has the tech policy world buzzing about privacy, search engines and personal history. In short, the court ruled that the EU Data Protection Directive gives a person the right to demand that old information be purged from search results. The particular case involves an attorney seeking removal of links to announcements about a real-estate auction connected with a debt settlement in 1998. While the ECJ made a number of interesting moves in the case (including a welcome argument that the distinction between data processors and data controllers does not make as much sense today as it did in 1995 when the Directive went into effect), the big consequence everyone is talking is the right to be forgotten.

The long memory of the Internet is a feature it's hard not to love and fear at the same time. Whether you have something to hide or not, if it's on the Internet, it stays on the Internet (most of the time, at lea…