Follow your digital society

Here is one of the main deals of a democracy: you delegate your power (over your street, your city, your state, etc.) to elected people, who in turn get powerful but need to report back on what they do, that is, to be accountable. To make sure of this, other people called journalists should monitor what they do and propagate relevant information back into society.

Today's lack of accountability

Transparency

There are two major issues with this structure. Accountability being a weight to bear, some powerful people argue that they need secrecy, that is, the right to do whatever they want without being held accountable for it. This is a dangerous slope, as it brings us back to the non-democratic system (think of the NSA in the USA). To prevent this, one principle should be absolutely mandatory: transparency, which means whatever government people do is public. Given the maturity that information technology have reached, I believe that this system is now doable.

Support: to push for more transparency, I publicly and financially support Wikileaks in their action.

Watchdogs

The second major issue we have with the basic deal of democracy lies with journalists. Even assuming that information was fully transparent, we would still need people to work it out and analyze what powerful people (government officials, company directors, etc.) do. Now, the problem we have is that journalists live in the same social group as powerful people, while mainstream media are owned by moguls.

Support: to help counter this phenomenon, I publicly and financially support Acrimed, a journalist association dedicated to fact checking and analysis of mainstream media.

Digital rights

The two phenomena above have been around for centuries. A more recent trend of our societies is that they are increasingly becoming "digital": information flows, and with this new structure comes a new set of threats and rights to counter them. We are all familiar with digital rights to some extent. Who hasn't seen the "piracy is baaad" screen that everyone needs to endure any time we play a DVD or Blu-ray disc? (Despite contradictory evidence that online sharing may actually have a positive effect on entertainment industries.)

Intellectual property

One of the main aspects of digital rights is "intellectual property", that is to say, the creation of a market for ideas. A building block for this institution is the patent system, which was created with the good intention to protect inventors from predatory competitors when they release their ideas. However, the notion of "invention" has been broadened to include vaguer things such as "brands" or "software ideas", with some vicious side effects. So, the question is: should we create an artificial "market" for ideas? What do we gain and lose by making such a decision? On this topic, lawyer Lawrence Lessig gave a brilliant talk at OSCON 2002 on free culture (31'40).

Support: I make donations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to push for this line of thinking, as a counter-power to private companies who lobby to extend the scope of patentability.

Network neutrality

An ongoing phenomenon that is not as well-known as intellectual property relates to the regulation of networks. Governments have already started to regulate and monitor our computer networks, and they clearly do so out of public reach, be it secretly, as the NSA in the USA, or behind closed-doors, like the EU government does. The question is: should the companies that own the network "pipes" be allowed to bill preferential traffic to big customers, or should they be forced to treat all network packets in the same way? The latter is known as network neutrality regulation, and I believe it is desirable. The main reason for this is that, if you think a bit about the other option, you will see that it involves network companies actually disassembling our network packets (this is called deep packet inspection) to look at what's inside before they decide if it should go "fast" or "slow". Would you allow your local post office to do the same?...

Support: I give money to La Quadrature du net to defend our citizen rights in ongoing EU policymaking, as a counter-power to balance private and government interests.

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