Machiavelli Confronts 21st Century Digital Technology
6 January 2010
This is the title of the paper resulting from the interdisciplicary collaboration between computer scientists and social scientists, last November in Dagstuhl. The full version is available on SSRN at:
Machiavelli Confronts 21st Century Digital Technology: Democracy in a Network Society
by Walter S. Baer, Nikita Borisov, George Danezis, Seda F. Guerses, Marek Klonowski, Miroslaw Kutylowski, Ursula Maier-Rabler, Tal Moran, Andreas Pfitzmann, Bart Preneel, Ahmad-Reza Sadeghi, Thierry Vedel, Tracy Westen, Filip Zagorski, and William H. Dutton.
The topic of the seminar was “Network Democracy” and for five days, we discussed tools for representation, direct democracy, power, trasnparency and democratic institutions. This was a refreshing break form the traditional “e-voting = e-democracy” caricature.
The gap between computer and social scientists was initialy wide, and for a few days we concentrated on formulating questions that communities want to ask each other (see appendix 1). A few examples include:
- Computer to social scientists about Conflicting Values. What are prime examples where democratic values come in conflict with each other? What types of conflicts are inherent in democratic systems? Is the integrity of technical systems the key requirement for edemocracy solutions? Is it more important than privacy? Is availability more important than both? What are the social dangers for democracy in a network society?
- Social to computer scientists about Privacy and Surveillance. How will future technologies enable all branches of government to discover what citizens and other residents are doing, thinking and saying? To what extent can existing and new privacy and security technologies limit the government’s ability to know more about the public than the public wants to reveal? Can privacy technologies help both enhance and protect the democratic process (e.g. by preventing widespread disclosure of the names of persons signing petitions in a way that could lead to subsequent harassment because of their support of a controversial measure – at the same time as allowing dissemination of information that the wider public would like to know, such as how many people signed the petition and their broad demographic characteristics, but not their individual identities)?
One of the most insightul remarks, and by far my favorite:
“Technologies may be used to cement existing power relations or offer merely an ineffectual ‘play democracy’. Technologies may disadvantage certain groups and worsen power imbalances (e.g. some types of surveillance technologies). Political forces may seek widespread deployment of such technologies or try to limit their use.”