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ICT, Citizens and the State: moral philosophy and development practice


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Lecture with slides and audio by Prof. Tim Unwin of the ICT4D consortium on ICTs, Citizens, the State and their relationship to moral philosophy and development

Presented during the first session of the Collaborative Online Seminar Cours in ICT4D on the 10th of November 2009

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ICT, Citizens and the State: moral philosophy and development practice

  1. 1. ICTs, citizens and the state: moral philosophy and development practices Tim Unwin UNESCO Chair in ICT4D Royal Holloway, University of London ICT4D Consortium Online Seminar Series, 2009
  2. 2. Is the introduction of e- government initiatives in ‘developing’ countries a ‘good’ thing?
  3. 3. On what grounds do we make such judgements? • Costs and benefits – Makes government delivery cheaper • Efficiency – Enables government business to be transacted more efficiently • Transparency – Reduces corruption and wastage in the system • Arguments generally made primarily on economic grounds
  4. 4. But is the introduction of ICTs in e-governance ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? How does moral philosophy help us answer this question?
  5. 5. Posted on Kictanet (2009) ‘...Pakistan has created a national smart ID card database, managed by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). Currently this database holds 170 million fingerprints, 72 million facial images, and has already issued 70 million ID cards. … The mere scale of this database raises questions about access management, security, and interoperability, but these have yet to be answered. A centralised pool of information may be an invaluable tool to any government; especially one trying to raise its people out of poverty. But given how high the stakes are, we need to ask ourselves whether adopting a one-sided approach and focusing on the benefits alone will not harm those same people in the long run’?
  6. 6. The example of national digital databases Positive and negative impacts on both citizens and states
  7. 7. Positive benefits of national databases • For governments • For citizens – enables easier checking – Enables swifter access to of individual identities information – cheaper delivery of – Facilitates agencies in services accessing their life – Increased efficiency of histories for medical managing citizen control reasons – reduces ‘illegal’ – Individual benefits (in immigration terms of financial/tax and – Centralises diverse personal safety) gained sources of existing from government delivery information of more efficient and cost effective services – reduces numbers of civil servants
  8. 8. But also negative impacts of national digital databases • For governments • For citizens – Costs of – Should states have biometric information about citizens? implementation and – Identity only proven through management the presence of the ID card – Potential failure of – Increases the potential of untried technologies identify fraud – Risks of fraudulent – Ultimately, citizens have to use of counterfeit ID pay for ID cards cards, as with – Increases potential for citizens to be subject to acts banknotes and of violence against them by passports states or agencies thereof – Increases potential for identity theft
  9. 9. How do we decide what is right and wrong in this example? … especially in contexts where governments are not trusted
  10. 10. Outline • The Information Society, WSIS and human rights • African information ethics and the Tshwane Declaration • E-government and changes in the relationships between states and citizens • Questions we need to ask about e-government to inform us whether it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’
  11. 11. Drawing on • 17th century European social contract theory – Especially Locke and Hobbes • Recent work in Information Ethics in an African context – Typified by Capurro et al. (2007) – And debates over the Tshwane Declaration • Critical realism – Raymond Geuss’s (2008) Philosophy and Real Politics • Popular debates on identity cards, national databases and surveillance
  12. 12. Towards conclusions • In each particular ‘real’ context we need to ask three types of question about – Trust – Privacy – The system of law • And we need to rethink our taken for granted assumptions about ‘human rights’
  13. 13. The Information Society and WSIS ‘We acknowledge the importance of ethics for the Information Society, which should foster justice, and the dignity and worth of the human person. The widest possible protection should be accorded to the family and to enable it to play its crucial role in society’ (WSIS, 2003, para 57).
  14. 14. The Information Society and WSIS • Nowhere does this make explicit what is meant by “ethics for the Information Society” • Interesting emphasis placed on the family – How does this relate to the Information Society? • WSIS (2005) reaffirmed interest – To “address the ethical dimensions of the Information Society” – With emphasis on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights • “so that people everywhere can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, to achieve their full potential and to attain the internationally agreed development goals and objectives”
  15. 15. Focus on Human Rights • WSIS claims are an ideal aspiration – Premised on the Universal Declaration • But do not reflect current reality – Especially in Africa • Contested nature of human rights is not recognised – ICTs have enabled powerful interests to assert their vision of human rights • US dominated model focusing on the individual as a ‘free’ labourer and consumer – But this is not necessarily in the interest of poor and marginalised peoples
  16. 16. African information ethics
  17. 17. African Information Ethics… • Ethical considerations are essential so as to avoid an increased digital information gap in Africa • Distinction – Information ethics for Africa • The dominant modality, imposed from outside – Information ethics from Africa • Importance of African traditions in shaping African information ethics (Capurro, 2007) – Oral traditions – Communal traditions (ubuntu) • Perhaps European privacy concerns are less relevant?
  18. 18. …Tshwane Declaration • But, failures of the political process (Frohmann, 2007) • ‘African information ethics is treated as a plug-in to a system of stable phenomena already assembled together in a fixed totality by’ the ‘three absolute and already stabilized virtues’ of universal human values, human rights and social justice • ‘the Declaration reflects the political reality of the Tshwane Conference, where instead of pursuing scholarly discussion of ethics in any philosophical sense the academic delegates were set the task of crafting a document – the Tshwane Declaration – only to find that none of their recommendations survived the final draft’
  19. 19. National ID cards: an example of e-government
  20. 20. Ghana’s National Identification Authority • 2. Q. How does the NIS benefit Ghana? – A. The NIS will facilitate: • development planning based on sufficient accurate population data. This will boost comprehensive national planning, especially in sectors such as education, health, employment and infrastructure; • delivery of social services such as health, retirement benefits and social administration; • delivery of credit facilities; and • identification of individuals for voting, insurance, licensing and general national security purposes. • 15. Q. What information will the ID Card bear? – A. The card will bear the holder’s unique identification number (assigned to him/her for life), name, photograph, fingerprint and residential/ home address.
  21. 21. “How brokers mint millions in Kenya ID fraud”
  22. 22. Positive benefits of biometric ID cards • For governments • For citizens – Helps to guarantee – Simplifies proof of transparency and identity for purposes reliability of electoral such as banking, health, processes insurance – Prevents illegal activities – Reduces identity fraud and threats (claims that it – Enables foreign national reduces terrorism, illegal working in a state to have immigration, under-age proof of identity drinking and criminal – Facilitating travel to other activity) states that recognise the – Increases ability to identity card monitor movement of citizens
  23. 23. But also negative impacts of biometric ID cards • For governments • For citizens – Costs of implementation – States do not currently have the right to have access to and management biometric information about – Potential failure of untried citizens; why should they? technologies – Makes identity only proven through the presence of the ID – Risks of fraudulent use of card, rather than through trust counterfeit ID cards, as in physical person with banknotes and – Increases the potential of passports identify fraud – Ultimately, citizens have to pay for ID cards – Increases potential for citizens to be subject to acts of violence against them by states or agencies thereof
  24. 24.
  25. 25. Three key moral issues need to be explored in choosing between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in e- Government: trust, privacy and the law Each within locally specific contexts
  26. 26. Origins of Social Contract theory • 17th century Europe – Hobbes: Leviathan – Locke: Two treatises of government • People have rights that they give up to governments in return for protection (Hobbes) – Reconciling conflicting human desires for peace and power • They also have duties to replace corrupt governments (Locke) • But, do people actually have rights that they can cede to governments?
  27. 27. Trust • Trust often seen as the basis for effective human cooperation – Underlying importance of regulatory environments in business and government – Yet 2008 financial meltdown has been a challenge to ‘trust’ • Trust and ICTs - Gerck (1998) – ‘trust is that which is essential to a communication channel but cannot be transferred from a source to a destination using that channel’ • Surveillance suggests that governments do not trust citizens – Why should citizens trust governments?
  28. 28. Trust and e-Government • Three key issues – Where citizens do not trust governments, no amount of e-government will encourage the delivery of better governance – the use of digital technologies may actually be reducing the trust between citizens and governments rather than increasing it as intended and expected – No amount of e-government technology will actually make a government change its attitudes and approaches towards its citizens, unless that government has in the first instance decided to adopt new ethical stances towards concepts such as transparency, equity and fairness
  29. 29. Privacy • Privacy as a good that can be weighed up against other goods (Etzioni, 2005) – Governments can pry into individuals’ lives to protect all citizens – External circumstances must change to permit this • Use of ‘terrorism’ as a justification • Or privacy as a means through which we have power over our own lives – But assymetric power relationships between states and citizens: states have more power than individual citizens • What if states cannot be trusted to be good? – ‘Reducing government’s ability to do bad things to us, at the cost of limiting its ability to protect us from bad things done to us by ourselves or by other people, may not be such a bad deal’ (Friedman, 2005)
  30. 30. Freedom on the Net (2009)
  31. 31. Privacy and e-Government • A fully transparent society (Brin, 1998) – Governments can watch citizens – And citizens can watch governments – But this is an idealistic view • Three key questions: – Will citizens ultimately benefit by giving up privacy rights to the state? – Do governments have in place mechanisms to avoid abuse of formerly ‘private’ information? – Do overall communal benefits outweigh losses of individual freedoms?
  32. 32. Ethics and legal systems • Locke’s fundamental constitutional principle – the individual can do anything apart from that which is prohibited by law, whereas the state may only do things that are explicitly authorised by law • Important differences between systems of Common Law and Constitutional Law – Distinctions between existing practices and constitutional principles – Separation between legislature and government – Challenges in reaching international agreements
  33. 33. The Law and e-Government • Three challenges – Technological innovation faster than ability of legal systems to respond – ICTs and globalisation leads to need for international agreements that are difficult to forge • All too often resorting to Human Rights agendas – Legality of ICTS • If some use of ICTs has not yet been defined as illegal, citizens are allowed to act with impunity • yet states should have to seek authorisation from the courts to be able to implement a new ICT based initiative, such as the construction of a national database of citizen information
  34. 34. Conclusions • Challenges for human rights agendas and social contract theory – If people do not have rights that they can cede to governments, governments cannot claim legitimacy in using biodata – Need for a focus on responsibilities to balance hegemonic focus on rights • Importance of consideration of communities, not only individuals – And importance of African communal traditions in particular
  35. 35. Who really benefits from e- Government? • Some benefits for citizens • Considerable increase in the power of states – Despite anarchic potential of some ICT usage • But the biggest beneficiaries are those corporations selling and implementing the technologies
  36. 36. Is e-government ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? …in your contexts
  37. 37. Keeping in touch….