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Information and communication technology for democracy
How information and communication technology are being used to develop and strengthen democracy.
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Why Representative Democracies Can't Write Off Transparency

Why Representative Democracies Can't Write Off Transparency | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Effective transparency is not a 'release-the-information-and-they-will-come' proposition. Information disclosure occurs within an ecosystem of interest groups and advocacy organizations that remix, repackage, and redistribute information once it is released. This civil-society context in which data is released significantly affects the effectiveness transparency can have.

 

In contrast to the average citizen, the media and existing interest groups can pay attention and evaluate complex policy issues, which they are able to observe because of the existence of relatively robust transparency regimes.

 

Making as much information available, in as timely a way as possible and in machine-readable, open, bulk formats lowers barriers for these organizations to operate.

 

Transparency doesn't solve everything, but it does make the marketplace of competing interests work better, and in so doing it helps align politicians’ incentives to promote responsive outcomes.


[Original text by Alexander Furnas, the Sunlight Foundation. Published by the Atlantic]

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Digital Media in the Arab World – a year after the "not Facebook or Twitter revolutions"

The Arab region is experiencing a profound media shift, Jeffrey Ghannam writes in the report "Digital Media in the Arab World One Year After the Revolutions".

 

The Arab revolutions were not Facebook or Twitter revolutions. However, the Internet’s potential as a tool that can help the process of democratization is undeniable. The enabling impact of social media networks and platforms – and the resulting vortex of bloggers, activists, journalists, lay citizens, and satellite networks that help disseminate online content for the majority of Arabs who are not online – has been firmly established.

 

Social media’s potential represents the brightest hope for greater freedom of expression in the Arab region, enabling tens of millions of people, and ultimately many more, to actively pursue civic engagement, free and fair elections, political accountability, the eradication of corruption, as well as free, independent, and pluralistic media in a rapidly changing media environment.

 

But the advances are not guaranteed. How successfully the emerging and legacy Arab governments reckon with digital technologies and the new media ecosystem may come to define the future of these governments and the region. However, the narrative in support of social change appears inexorable, as evidenced by the growing numbers of Arabs online, millions of whom are influencing the news and information exchanges throughout the region and globally. It is their narrative, after all, that has also inspired protests and social movements around the world.

 

[Original report by Jeffrey Ghannam. Blog post published at Democracy Digest]

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Why 'engagism' is more valuable than activism

Why 'engagism' is more valuable than activism | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian revolutionary (and Google marketing executive) who had surreptitiously built the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page that helped spark the January 25, 2011 uprising, has released the book "Revolution 2.0 - The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir".

 

Speaking at Harvard two weeks ago on a brief book tour, Ghonim insisted that, "I am an ordinary person who happened to use some tools" and that Egyptians revolted because they had been oppressed for so long, not because he convinced them to act. At the same time, he declared, "I am a geek. I love computers more than anything else. The first time I logged onto the Internet it was heaven on earth."

 

Ghonim tried to make a distinction clear, declaring that he believed that "Engagism is more important than activism." That is, that it was more important to engage mainstream audiences rather than withdraw from them. "Activists speak in rebellious language that is hard for those who have not gone through similar experiences to understand. The result is a gap between activists and their audience."

 

Even if Ghonim's (and Egypt's) story is unfinished, the value of online organizing seems conclusively settled by the events of last year. As he writes in an epilogue, "thanks to modern technology, participatory democracy is becoming a reality. Governments are finding it harder and harder to keep their people isolated from one another, to censor information, and to hide corruption and issue propaganda that goes unchallenged. Slowly by surely, the weapons of mass oppression are becoming extinct."

 

At the same time, Ghonim is not a techno-utopian. At his Harvard talk, he was asked whether activists should trust Facebook, reminded of how the Khaled Said page was shut down at a critical moment because it violated the company's rule against anonymous administrators. "I don't personally trust any tool," he said. "I trust the people behind the tool." And that remains the most important lesson of Revolution 2.0. Technology is just an enabler. It is what people decide to do with it that matters most.

 

[Original text by Micah Sifry published by Tech President]

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Swede of the Year 2011 – Christopher Kullenberg – helped to turn net activism into a democracy movement

In this short clip (1:14) net activist Christopher Kullenberg is sharing some thoughts on internet freedom for an upcoming documentary.

 

At the 1st of december Kullenberg was named "Swede of the Year 2011" by the Swedish news magazine Fokus. The jury gives the following motivation:
"Christopher Kullenberg represents a movement that has taken the fight for freedom and openness to the digital world. With Telecomix [a cluster striving to protect and improve the internet and defend the free flow of data] Kullenberg has helped to turn net activism into a democracy movement, which works through both advocacy and concrete pro-active efforts, especially in the case of the Arab spring."

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Freedom on the Net 2011 - A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media Freedom

Freedom on the Net 2011 - A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media Freedom | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

In order to illuminate the emerging threats to internet freedom and identify areas of opportunity, Freedom House created a unique methodology to assess the full range of elements that comprise digital media freedom. This report (April 2011) examines internet freedom in 37 countries around the globe. The study’s findings indicate that the threats to internet freedom are growing and have become more diverse. Cyber attacks, politically-motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure have emerged as especially prominent threats.

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Open government, what is it really?

Open government, what is it really? | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Open Government and Gov 2.0 are often used interchangeably, but "open government" has been used for many years, usually to relate to things like Freedom of Information (FoI) laws and transparency in legislative processes, whereas Gov 2.0 is more specifically looking at how we can use modern technologies and communications.

 

Gov 2.0 is about using the new technologies at our disposal, primarily the Internet, to co-design the next era of democracy in collaboration with citizens. It is about a more transparent, accountable, engaged, participatory and responsive government approach to serving the needs of citizens.

 

Open government and Gov 2.0 both represent an ideal. They represent a goal for us to be continually aiming for but they are not achieved with a single switch of policy. Achieving true open government is necessarily a constant and evolving challenge

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Making use of open data

Making use of open data | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

An interesting blog post on the use of open data to visualize European Parliament Intergroups and the network of UK Member of European Parliament.

 

These are the kind of insights and stories network analysis can provide and this is one reason why open data is important for political science, journalism and a better understanding of politics.

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The first data journalism handbook

The first data journalism handbook | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Data journalism is obtaining, reporting on, curating and publishing data in the public interest. Members of the Open Knowledge Foundation and the European Journalism Centre saw this years Mozilla Festival as a perfect opportunity to herd a number of prominent journalists and developers who started work on the first Data Journalism Handbook.

 

Friedrich Lindenberg of the Open Knowledge Foundation believes there is a real urgency in making newsrooms data-literate: “If journalists want to keep up with the information they need to learn coding, and some bits of data analysis and data-slicing techniques. That will make much better journalism and increase accountability.”

 

“It could be vital having a handbook that really explains to journalists how you can approach data journalism from scratch with no prior knowledge” says Caelainn Barr of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

 

The first draft of the handbook should be ready in the coming months. Of course it had to be open source. How else would it be able to age gracefully and be relevant in years to come?

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Kenya uses open data to fight corruption

Kenya uses open data to fight corruption | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

This year, Kenya became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to introduce an open data initiative to promote transparency in public spending, parliamentary proceedings, and the distribution of public services.

 

The Kenya Open Data Initiative (http://www.opendata.go.ke) pulls data from the World Bank, the national census, and government records, and it includes over 160 data sets on education, energy, health, population, poverty, and water and sanitation.

 

Although the primary goals are to improve government accountability and transparency, as well as to promote data-driven decision-making and ICT innovation, the tool is also empowering citizens to make decisions about what schools to choose for their children, to locate health services, and to lobby governments based on statistical findings.

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Check lobbyists tweeting

Check lobbyists tweeting | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Companies, politicians, celebrities and journalists have all taken to Twitter to promote their brands. But based on the Sunlight Foundation's search of Twitter’s API for the names of thousands of registered lobbyists, as well as interviews, lobbyists have been a bit slower to join the Twitter party.

 

However, some lobbyists’ tweets reveal insider tidbits about what they are monitoring, who they are influencing, and how Washington works, all in real-time.

 

Check out Sunlight Foundation's Twitter list of lobbyists using Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/list/SunFoundation/lobbyists

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Hacktivism for Syria

Hacktivism for Syria | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Online methods of protest, such as DDoS attacks and defacements, may be changing the face of activism, or at least offering an online component through which global supporters of a cause can participate. Legalities aside, the fact of the matter is that many Anonymous members and supporters view hacktivist activities as legitimate means of protest or dissent.

 

Syrian activist Anas Qtiesh called the defacements “a wasted effort,” suggesting that the hacktivists - who included in their defacements a guide to online safety - would be better off providing technical help to opposition sites.

 

In light of government surveillance and interference with social networks, Qtiesh’s recommendation that solidarity activists could “use their bandwidth to provide TOR bridges, [or] help opposition sites patch their security vulnerabilities” is dead on.

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No to Government Control of the Internet, says Biden

No to Government Control of the Internet, says Biden | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

“No citizen of any country should be subject to a repressive global code when they send an email or post a comment to a news article. They should not be prevented from sharing their innovations with global consumers simply because they live across a national frontier. That’s not how the Internet should ever work in our view — not if we want it to remain the space where economic, political and social exchanges can flourish,” says USA vice president Joe Biden.

 

“The rights of individuals to express their views and petition their leaders, practice their religion, assemble with their fellow citizens online, we believe, must be protected,” he continues. “These rights are universal whether they’re exercised in the town square or on a Twitter stream. They’re enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which applies to cyberspace just as surely as it does to every corner of every country on Earth.”

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Contesting networked authoritarianism?

Contesting networked authoritarianism? | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

The internet is politically contested terrain, a leading US official said last week, calling on global tech firms to defend cyberspace against authoritarian intrusion and censorship.

 

Companies had both a financial interest and a moral responsibility to ensure that the internet remained a realm of “empowering innovation” instead of “political domination,” said assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner.

 

Somebody wasn’t listening...

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Including a bonus scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail ;)

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Tor traffic disguised as Skype video calls to fool repressive governments

Tor traffic disguised as Skype video calls to fool repressive governments | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Computer scientists have released a tool that disguises communications sent through the Tor anonymity service as Skype video calls, a cloak that's intended to prevent repressive governments from blocking the anonymous traffic.

 

SkypeMorph, as the application is called, is designed to remedy a fundamental limitation of Tor: While the communications are cryptographically secured, unique characteristics of their individual data packets make them easy to identify as they travel over the networks. These fingerprints made it possible for government censors in Iran, China, and elsewhere to block data traveling over Tor while leaving the rest of the country's communications intact. The idea behind SkypeMorph is to camouflage Tor communications so they blend in as traffic that government censors are reluctant to restrict.

 

"The goal is to make the traffic look like some other protocol that they are not willing to block," Ian Goldberg, a professor at the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, told the technology news and information website Ars Technica.

 

"They could just shut off the Internet, of course, like Egypt did for a few days a year or so ago, but that, of course, would be extremely unpopular to their own people that are wondering why can't see pictures of cute cats."

 

[Original text by Dan Goodin published at Ars Technica]

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Regulations.gov relaunches — hopes for public participation

Regulations.gov relaunches — hopes for public participation | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

On January 18, 2011, President Obama issued an executive order directing that regulations shall be adopted through a process that involves participation.

 

On February 21, 2012, the White House announced the relaunch of Regulations.gov in a post on remaking public participation:

 

"The redesign of Regulations.gov fulfills thePresident’s commitment in The Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to 'improve public services,' including to 'expand public participation in the development of regulations.' This step is just one of many, consistent with the National Action Plan, designed to make our Federal Government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative."

 

But while the Internet could involve many more people in the process, improved outcomes will depend upon an digitally literate populace that’s willing to spend some of its civic surplus on public participation.

 

To put it another way, getting to "Regulations 2.0" will require "Citizen 2.0" — and we’ll need the combined efforts of all our schools, universities, libraries, non-profits and open government advocates to have a hope of successfully making that upgrade.

 

[Original text by Alex Howard published at gov20.govfresh]

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Democracy pays - How democratic engagement can cut the cost of government [PDF]

Local authorities faced with difficult budget rounds should create deeper and more meaningful democratic conversations at local level. Evidence from the UK and elsewhere shows that strong democratic voices in decision making could reduce costs, increase public readiness for service redesign, and make government spending more efficient. The increasing availability of online solutions reduces the cost of engagement, while increasing reach.

 

New technology is making engagement cheaper, and increasing the reach of traditional forms of engagement such as the public meeting. At the same time, the desire for engagement beyond party politics is high, both in local and national politics. The conditions exist for a deeper and better public conversation on public services.

 

[Original text by Anthony Zacharzewski published by Democratic Society]

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2011: The Year of Social Media Democracy

2011: The Year of Social Media Democracy | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

2011 will be remembered for the rise of social media democracy in countries traditionally ruled by autocratic governments — most notably, the Arab Spring. In regions where official media has been heavily censored for years, the rise of personal access to the Internet and social networks has meant that populist movements now have a voice that can reach the outside world.

 

Representatives of populist discontent were able to adopt and adapt new methods of communication to reach each other and outside sympathizers, often at terrible risk to their own lives and the safety of their families. Social media democracy began to take on a new meaning; a collective voice was now able to document its struggle for the first time.

 

[Original text by Ekaterina Walter published @mashable]

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How Twitter helped rescue Mona El Tahawy

How Twitter helped rescue Mona El Tahawy | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

After having posted a number of comments to Twitter about the demonstrations in Tahrir Square — El Tahawy (@monaeltahawy) posted a single tweet that said she had been arrested by the country’s security forces.

 

The news sent shockwaves through the network of Egypt-watchers who follow El Tahawy on Twitter, among others influential accounts like Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc) and Andy Carvin (@acarvin). They started posting about the news and a hashtag quickly emerged: #freemona. Within 20 minutes the hashtag was trending worldwide. Tufekci and Carvin also reached out to another member of their network: Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton. She in turn reached out to her contacts at the State Department.

 

El Tahawy was released 12 hours later, with a broken arm and a broken wrist from being assaulted by her captors.

 

So did Twitter cause El Tahawy’s release? As Tufekci says in her post about the incident, proving cause and effect with social networks like Twitter is almost impossible. But what it clearly did in this case was speed up the process.

 

El Tahawy’s says: "A few decades ago, contemplating launching a global campaign like this would require that I own, say, a television station or two. Concise, fast, global, public and connected was what we needed, and, for that, there is nothing better than Twitter".

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Videoblogging comes of age

Videoblogging comes of age | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Activist Tim Pool’s ongoing live stream of the Occupy Wall Street protest in Manhattan is called “The Other 99”, as in, "We Are the Other 99 percent", and it has become a widely-used window into the Occupy movement's Manhattan birthplace.

 

Using his Samsung Galaxy S2 cell phone, a 4G network, a free Ustream account, and Twitter and Facebook to alert viewers to new broadcasts, the 25-year-old Tim Pool is demonstrating what could be the future of broadcast, networked citizen journalism, where interaction with viewers is real-time, and where anything can happen.

 

"In the early days, it was all about the technology, solving technical problems. Nowadays, there are no technical problems. There are all these free services, and it all connects to a phone," says Jay Dedman, a television and advocacy video producer, and long-time videoblogger.

 

“My wife and I were eating dinner in front of the TV that had the live stream playing full-screen, with audio playing through our loud Bose speakers,” he says. “Rather than being like our parents watching the heavily edited, thirty minutes of world news at 6 o'clock, we were watching a live event that had no real start or stop time. The stream was something we entered and left whenever we wanted. We were reading tweets, following new people, sharing info we were learning...while watching and listening to thousands of people marching. [It was] the modern version of a be-in.”

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UK e-petitions: the first 100 days

UK e-petitions: the first 100 days | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Last Saturday marked 100 days since the new e-petitionsservice was launched in the UK. The service is an easy online way for citizens to influence government policy in the UK. The service is incredibly popular -on average 18 people have signed an e-petition every minute since the service started.

 

Commenting on these statistics, the Leader of the House of Commons, Sir George Young MP, said “I welcome the positive public response to the e-petitions site, which is an important way of building a bridge between people and Parliament.”

 

This shows that there is a real appetite for online petitioning and that the widespread use of social media can make them a powerful tool for engaging with governments.

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Internet keeps government honest

Internet keeps government honest | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

Broader adoption of the internet will keep governments on their toes as wired-up citizens exercise their newfound power to check rights abuses, Google chief Eric Schmidt said.

 

Schmidt cited demonstrations that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt in which activists used Facebook to schedule protests, Twitter to coordinate them and YouTube to broadcast the events to the world.

 

But while governments should not ignore online protests, Schmidt also warned that they could be exaggerated. "It's easy in the online world to create the impression of a revolution in the form of noise. It's important to understand what is a legitimate protest and whether it's just people trying to create some noise... some excitement."

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Open data – Seeing dimensions beyond the technical ones

Jose M. Alonso at the World Wide Web Foundation writes an insightful post about open data and the importance of seeing beyond the technology;

 

Open data is an important pillar of open government initiatives and those are about changing the way government and its constituencies relate and communicate. Would that goal be solved with technology alone? Of course, not.

 

Technology means probably less than 10% of an open data initiative and a majority of the discussions are about technology alone and the other 90% gets ignored.

 

There are various dimensions that should be taken into account when considering starting an open data initiative: political, legal, organizative, technical, social and economic.

 

Unfortunately, dimensions beyond the technical one are often ignored, and the main reason is that they mean deep, important government reform. It’s much easier to build a sexy portal with downloadable datasets and applications and visualizations people can play with than to think about legislation needs to support the initiative, capacity building requirements in the public administration, allocation of budget in these crisis times to make it a sustainable effort and similar topics.

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The vital role of local councils in embracing open data

The vital role of local councils in embracing open data | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

The starting point for transparency – opening up and democratising public data – should have at its heart public service outcomes for citizens and communities and relevant data should be open to all those deciding upon, designing and creating these outcomes.

 

Indeed, all data collected using public resources should be available in the public domain, subject to the needs of privacy, commercial sensitivity and security. Fundamentally, public data is a public good. When data is structured into information and that information is transformed into knowledge, then value is added.

 

The results will be better data quality, better decision-making, more accountability, elimination of waste and duplication, more trust in government, and better services and service outcomes.

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MC Hammer on the impact social media, mobile and crowdsourcing have on government

MC Hammer on the impact social media, mobile and crowdsourcing have on government | Information and communication technology for democracy | Scoop.it

O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard interviewed musician and tech entrepreneur MC Hammer at the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco where, towards the end (6:05), Hammer talks about the impact social media, mobile and crowdsourcing have on government.

 

“Local governments, they’re not good at engaging the public at large. They’re still finding their feet with respect to using these platforms and dropping their guards and stop being afraid of social media, because remember, these tools create a level of transparency that sometimes can be uncomfortable. You no longer dictate the corporate message to the community, but the community speaks back, and they voice their opinions.”, says MC Hammer.

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The London Conference on Cyberspace: “Hopes and Fears”

Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, makes three main points about the transformative role information and communication technology can play in development.

 

1. ICTs play a catalytic role in advancing human development by improving access to information and service delivery, and enabling broader democratic participation.

 

2. ICTs can transform the way governments and development actors work, to ensure that our policies and programmes are more responsive to the needs and priorities of the poor and marginalized.

 

3. Growing demand for ICT solutions and applications, coupled with great ICT innovation in the Global South, can create new jobs, enhance public-private partnerships, and expand South-South co-operation.

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