Digital Communications and Democracy


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An overview of how mobile phones, mobile web, and the internet ("MMI" -- my term) as tools for freedom of expression are protected or challenged in the EU and in the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), including some key questions on the future of MMI as tools to support democracy and/or self-determination.

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Digital Communications and Democracy

  1. 1. Digital Communications and Democracy<br />An Assessment through the Prisms of EU Regulations and the Eastern Partnership Countries<br /> of the South Caucasus<br />In light of the movements now happening in the Middle East, this presentation<br />I made in Dec. 2010 seems particularly relevant. It compares regulatory language on technology for freedom of expression with actual practices, particularly comparing EU countries and the countries of the South Caucasus (neighbor countries to the Middle East).<br />
  2. 2. What does technology have to do with freedom of expression?<br />What is and isn’t protected through regulation and enforcement?<br />How has technology possibly changed whether that matters?<br />We have all heard of this guy…<br />
  3. 3. The Lenses<br />Technologies for democracy<br />Democracy = <br />Free speech &<br />People-powered movements<br />FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION<br />Digital Communications Technology<br />Mobile phones, mobile web, the internet <br />MMI (my term for mobile web, mobile phone, and internet)<br />This document references supporting technology to support people-powered movements. I call these “technologies for democracy.”<br />
  4. 4. Where do people need powered?<br />The South Caucasus are snug between Russia to the North, Turkey to the West, Iran to the South, and Central Asia to the East.<br />
  5. 5. State of Democracy & State of MMI Use: the three former Soviet countries vary on their access to MMI and on the freedom rankings (according to Freedom House)<br />Armenia<br />Low MMI<br />Penetration/<br />7% internet; 88% mobile<br />Reasonably free<br />Azerbaijan<br />High MMI <br />Penetration/28.8 % internet; <br />94% mobile<br />Autocratic<br /><ul><li> Georgia</li></ul>Medium MMI penetration/<br />23.8% internet; <br />83% mobile<br />Reasonably free<br />High literacy, typically at 99% in post-communist countries<br />Low Civil Society Participation, typical of post-communist countries <br />Rapid growth in MMI & uptick of political blogging, etc.<br />
  6. 6. Why do the people need democracy?<br />Who doesn’t need democracy? <br />One complication is the dozens of ethnicities, languages, and the # of standing conflicts [Georgia with Russia; Armenia with Azerbaijan; Turkey with Armenia]. Many borders are closed and the region is locked up due to conflict.<br />
  7. 7. The region is at a geographic center between larger powers and competing spheres of influence: <br />the EU (Turkey/Black Sea Region)-Middle East<br />EU-Russia<br />American (Turkey/NATO)-Russia<br />American (Turkey/NATO)-Iran<br />Christian-Moslem<br />Turkic-Slavic<br />Turkic-Persian<br />NATO-the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia’s answer to NATO)<br />access to Europe (Black Sea)-no direct access<br />resource/land rich-desiccated<br />
  8. 8. Regulatory Environment for MMI<br />United States is based on<br />Libertarian Model<br />Public Interest Model<br />Liberal Market Model<br />European Union follows<br />National-Cultural Model<br />Public Service Model <br />Liberal Model <br />The Eastern Partnership<br />& its Civil Society Forum: formed by the EU to bring the countries of the South Caucasus and the Black Sea Region closer to Europe economically and culturally. Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan all signed on. <br />Chart is by ©ShaliniVenturelli<br />
  9. 9. More Lens/Filters for what I examined:<br /><ul><li> Technology that supports freedom of expression as proposed by US Nat’l Security Strategy</li></ul>MMI because it is, more or less, people-powered<br /><ul><li> Places that needs more democracy</li></ul>The South Caucasus<br /><ul><li> Regulatory & Enforcement Environment</li></ul>I compared the EU Model with the South Caucasus because of those countries involvement in the<br />Eastern Partnership<br />
  10. 10. Q: What did I find? A: Surprises<br />The Constitutions of the three countries of the South Caucasus provide as much protection of freedom of expression via MMI as does the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon (The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ).<br />Both EU member states and the South Caucasus countries lag in protection and enforcement (as do most countries most places). No country is all that good at stopping the flow of information channeled through MMI. Frankly, the South Caucasus countries are not that much more severe in their on-the-ground suppression/oppression of MMI for freedom of expression than are some EU countries<br />
  11. 11. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union <br />The South Caucasus<br />Article 11<br />Freedom of expression and information<br />1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.*<br />2. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.<br />* From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights<br />(Armenia) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression including freedom to search for, receive and impart information and ideas by any means of information regardless of the state frontiers.*<br />(Azerbaijan) Everyone is free to look for, acquire, transfer, prepare and distribute information.<br />(Georgia) Everyone has the right to freely receive and impart information, to express and impart his/her opinion orally, in writing or by in any other means.<br />
  12. 12. Enforcement and protection lag in EU Member States, too, not only in the South Caucasus countries<br />European Data Retention Directive—kept people’s data on file way too long<br />Swedish authority to national security—logs people’s info a long time<br />Uneven enforcement in Poland<br />Raids on online content in Germany<br />Photocopies of passports in Italy when you use an internet cafe<br />Internet blackout during election protests in 2008 in Armenia<br />Headlines around the world with arrest of 2 bloggers in Azerbaijan<br />.ru block during war between Georgia and Russia<br />I would have anticipated this, but not the EU issues…<br />
  13. 13. MMI & liberty & security. Here is why the balance is hard (from the Global Internet Liberty Campaign’s report to the Open Society Institute)<br />Global -- The Internet provides immediate access to information from around the world. With simple e-mail, it is as easy to send a message to another continent as it is to the building next door. Through the World Wide Web, thousands of newspapers and tens of thousands of other information sources are available from around the world. While access is still not available to most of the world's population, the fastest rates of growth are in less developed countries. <br /> <br />Decentralized -- The Internet was designed by purpose to be decentralized, to work without gatekeepers, and to accommodate multiple, competitive access points. The absence of gatekeepers of the kind that exist in broadcasting, cable television, or satellite transmission, the availability of numerous hosting sites, and the irrelevance of geographic location mean that material can almost always be published outside the control of governments, monopolies or oligopolies. <br />Open -- The Internet has low barriers to access. Service can be priced very inexpensively. The costs of creating and disseminating content are extremely low. Because of the Internet, anybody who has a computer and a modem can be a publisher -- a digital Gutenberg. <br />Abundant -- The digitization of information and the ability to transmit it over the telephone network, combined with the decentralized nature of the Internet, mean that the Internet has essentially unlimited capacity to hold information. In economic terms, the marginal cost of adding another web site, sending another email message, or posting to a newsgroup is essentially zero. <br />Interactive -- The Internet is designed for bi-directional communication: All Internet users can be both speakers and listeners. The Internet allows responsive communication from one-to-one, from one-to-many, and from many-to-one. <br />User-Controlled -- The Internet allows users to exercise far more choice than even cable television or short wave radio. The user can skip from site to site in ways that are not dictated by the content providers or by the access provider. User can control what content reaches their computers. Users can encrypt their communications to hide them from government censors. <br />Infrastructure independent -- The Internet is not linked to any infrastructure other than the telephone system. Dial-up access is available from any telephone that can make an international call. Access to the Internet can also be wireless and satellite based and therefore further removed from effective control of governments. <br />
  14. 14. What else?<br />Mobile web is bringing the internet to everyone<br />Mobile phones are making content creation possible for everyone (video, photos, and a worldwide distribution outlet)<br />Mobile phones and mobile web can circumvent state-controlled or approved traditional media (TV, radio, print)<br />
  15. 15. What can/could be done?<br />EU proposes global internet codes and standards<br />Hold countries accountable for protection and enforcement of protection<br />HOWEVER<br />Technology may render global standards meaningless because there will always be a technological way around the regulation (e.g. host somewhere else; use mirror sites)<br />OR<br />Technology may make it easier for countries to violate freedom of expression and to block content (more money for tighter tech-based controls)<br />OR<br />The vast expansion of MMI to non-elites (the fastest growing MMI markets) may put the people in control of the mass of information flow for the first time in human history... looks like we may have a winner, folks!<br />
  16. 16. Next steps (in the South Caucasus)<br />Some social science research into the actual effects of self-guided information sharing and content creation via MMI on broadening the range of political discourse among non-elites (a people-powered discourse) in the South Caucasus would be useful to illuminate how political repression modulates the influence of MMI. Where freedom of expression is especially limited, repression may trump the democratic potential of MMI. On the other hand, MMI may be most significant where traditional means of expression are most repressed.<br />Also worth examining: the EU’s affect on the political environment of the South Caucasus. As the economic relationship (the first priority of the Eastern Partnership) between the EU and the South Caucasus matures, will the political environment of the South Caucasus become more democratic? What role will MMI play? Will the need to keep the internet open for foreign businesses and for foreigners doing business influence a country’s decisions regarding enforcement or repression of freedom of expression via MMI? Does the market impact freedom of expression and MMI?<br />
  17. 17. MMI seems unstoppable… <br />Slipstream<br />Technology Outpaces Privacy (Yet Again)<br />By NATASHA SINGER<br />Published: December 11, 2010<br />In a similar fashion, the F.T.C.’s report<br />recommends that Internet and mobile app users<br />receive better control over who sees, collects and<br />shares information about their electronic<br />behavior — like, say, the Web sites they peruse or<br />the terms they plug into search engines. Indeed,<br />the commission proposed a “do not track”<br />mechanism that would allow consumers to opt<br />out of “behavioral advertising,” the kind of<br />marketing that tailors ads to a consumer’s<br />personal track record.<br />“The laws haven’t really kept pace with the<br />unbelievable developments,” says Jessica<br />Rich, deputy director of the trade commission’s<br />bureau on consumer protection. <br />Sunday New York Times Feature Articles Dec. 11, 2010<br />Slipstream<br />Keeping Secrets WikiSafe<br />By SCOTT SHANE<br />Published: December 11, 2010<br />WASHINGTON — Can the government still keep a secret? In an age of WikiLeaks, flash drives and instant Web postings, leaks have begun to seem unstoppable. <br />Still, there’s been a change. Traditional watchdog<br />journalism, which has long accepted leaked information<br />in dribs and drabs, has been joined by a new<br />counterculture of information vigilantism that now<br />promises disclosures by the terabyte. A bureaucrat can<br />hide a library’s worth of documents on a key fob, and<br />scatter them over the Internet to a dozen countries<br />during a cigarette break. <br />That accounts for how, in the three big WikiLeaks<br />document dumps since July, the usual trickle of leaks<br />became a torrent. All of it, disguised as a Lady Gaga CD,<br />was smuggled out of a military intelligence office,<br />according to government prosecutors, by Pfc. Bradley<br />Manning, a soldier now imprisoned and charged with the<br />leak. <br />
  18. 18. How will MMI continue to contribute as a technological tool for self-determination?Does it only make a difference in an atmosphere of restriction? That is, once a place reaches a certain level of freedom, MMI no longer is as impactful a tool to take the country beyond that certain level?<br />
  19. 19. Thanks!For more about my research interests and about me,<br />