Notes | Democracy and Digital Technology

Posted on Sep 25, 2021

Source: International Journal of Human Rights | Author: Ted Piccone | Date: July 26, 2018


The author reiterates the accepted narrative about that the principles the Internet was founded on. That it was designed to have de-centralized control and encourage a flow of cross-border information run largely by the private sector. While Internet history is ignored in this telling, the author identifies principles that a balkanized web would threaten. Piccone then makes recommendations for how we preserve and strengthen the web as we know it.

Quotes and Observations

”…the increased digitisation of the pas two decades has created a “chilling effect” on free speech, where citizens in certain countries feel less safe to assert their opinions, knowing that their personal data are monitored or archived. (31)

The threat of digital blackouts is also grave and the author notes that in the first nine months of 2017 there were 60 documented shutdowns (31)

“The internet was founded on principles of decentralised self-organisation and trans-border information flow and is run mostly by private actors as a network of networks.”

Was it founded on these principles? That is the narrative but TCP/IP arises from a specific set of circumstances related to funding and technological constraints of the time (Emerson 2021).

The author claims that “…growing assertion of internet regulation by nation states, and fragmentation across jurisdictional and territorial boundaries, increasingly threaten these principles.” (32)

I have no doubt that internet Balkanization threatens the principles we have come to associate with the internet, I’m not entirely sure that a homogenous web is better than a balkanized one. While I want to be able to talk with people all across the world, what if we had a pluralism of networks? With groups defining UI, protocols, interfaces, and standards to interact with each other?

As it stands, our communications flow through a handful of conglomerates and that certainly isn’t better.

Policy Recommendations

Protect Democratic Processes: designating the election system in the US as ‘critical infrastructure’ would be a good start for requiring the cybersecurity of voting machines to be improved. (33) This can be done by:

1) not connecting machines to a digital network and backing up the digital system. 2) open electoral data principles for establishing trust and auditing 3) detect and punish state sponsored hackings 4) develop protocols to facilitate the prosecution of cross border hacking 5) develop consensus that an attack on election systems infrastructure constitutes a physical attack. (summarized from 34)

As for the last point. I am not entirely certain that I want to embolden Western nations with reasons to physically respond to cyber-attacks. There are also questions of standards. Would supporting a coup through spy agencies fall under consensus that would justify an attack?

Protect Human Rights Online: International commute should uphold and promote human rights and hold themselves to the standards they espouse.

  1. Expand and support existing human rights laws

  2. States should partner with civil society and the private sector to strengthen resolutions and develop proper norms for monitoring

  3. The private sector must establish more rigorous safeguards to protect citizens from state and non-state actors.

  4. Policies that place restrictions on web content and digital communications must be crafted with participation from stakeholders and must comply with international law with respect to privacy and due process

    (summarized from 34-35)

Establish a Code of Internet Governance: a coalition of “like-minded” (35) states should create a working group from experts across industry and civil society to draft & propose a voluntary code of internet governance.

1) The governance group should consider Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Strategy and the Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online. 2) Have the working group coordinate education and training on the relationship between human rights and digital technology 3) After establishing standards consider consequences for “blatant offenders” and they must also pose the question “how should democracies address nations that attempt cyber attacks on their core democratic processes”

This paper more seems a way to preserve the entire system we have here. These suggestions would not simply preserve democracy but they would still privilege Western countries and the multinational countries within them. While many of these recommendations and suggestions are worth implementing, this proposal does little for populations of people not living within the seats of power. It does nothing to challenge the owners of the vectors of information (Wark, 2019) through which data flows.

References to Read

Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Strategy

Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online

Works Cited

Emerson, Lori. “The Net Was Never Neutral.”

Capital is Dead Mackenzie Wark

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