Lawrence Lessig on ending corruption using ICT

ICT against corruption is an issue I’ve written on earlier, and it came as a surprise today that no less than Lawrence Lessig has set his mind on using ICT to combat corruption. “How will the Internet change the corruption of politics?” is one of the many questions Lessig answers and describes how the Internet and web, as a tools of participatory democracy, can make government more accountable and transparent.

Lessig’s vision is limited to the US, but there is no reason why the mechanisms and technologies he speaks about can be adopted and applied in other countries.

Using the web and Internet for democracy – Burma and others

“Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information.The pictures are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky – captured at great personal risk on mobile phones – but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.”It is amazing how the Burmese are able through underground networks to get things from outside and inside,” says Vincent Brussels, head of the Asian section of press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.“Before, they were moving things hand-to-hand and now they are using the internet – proxy websites, Google and YouTube and all these things.”

Just as RCTV defied the Venezuelan government’s censorship and my own work on the potential of the web and Internet to support democracy in Nepal suggests, blogs and mobile phones are now being used by Burmese pro-democracy dissidents, as this BBC news report highlights.

“Technology will make it increasingly difficult for the state to control the information its people receive,” said Ronald Reagan soon after stepping down as America’s president: “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip”.

I’ve written extensively about how the web, Internet and mobile phones can subvert repressive regimes and how simple, practical yet effective and sustainable ideas for ICT in peacebuilding can strengthen democracy. This has also been recognised by Freedom House in How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Struggle to Durable Democracy. And yet, what are the limits of online freedom and activism?However, as I note in Desperate for a Revolution:

The power of the internet and web is such that;

  • you can support these activities through open discussion on the web, which the organisations can then use as a measure of support for their work
  • you can flag initiatives you think are worth supporting financially through donations
  • you can flag projects that people can volunteer in to help build local capacities
  • you can use mobile technologies and Skype to create discussions amongst youth in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora on helping youth affected by the conflict
  • you can flag anecdotal stories from the field that engender hope
  • you can flag story ideas for the media to write on
  • bring to attention the issues of conflict and peace to those in urban areas not usually interested in thempost photos on Flickr that show communities engaged in initiatives that help strengthen democracy, development and human security
  • you can use meeting that bring together young bloggers to talk about ways that collaboratively highlight issues related to democracy and human rights
  • post soundbites and videos from personal interviews with mentors or those working in the field in Sinhala, Tamil and English
  • produce short documentaries that are pod-cast friendly – making content that’s hip and interesting to those in urban areas, but at the same time address issues of peace and conflict

Related posts:Nepal – Technology and DemocracyPublic Service Broadcasting – using technology for democracyBuilding peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projectsDefeating repressive regimesDefeating repressive regimes – Take 2Related stories from news media:Bloggers silenced as curbs bring internet blackout‘Open-Source Politics’ Taps Facebook for Myanmar Protests 

Towards a new cartography: Mapping a peace process using Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

In exploring the possibilities of constructing a mapping process for peace in Sri Lanka, this monograph engages with the theoretical aspects of process mapping and then explores possible ways in which such mapping exercises can be conducted. The author’s research into the creation of Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) systems to support negotiations and peacebuilding has fed into this paper, along with his earlier work on systems design for early warning, conflict prevention and the mitigation of communal violence using technology.

Beginning with a brief outline of what constitutes a process and the importance of mapping such an activity, the monograph will follow through an examination of ‘wicked problems’ and the locale foundation and then explore other frameworks that may be useful in the formulation of a comprehensive mapping architecture for a peace process. Ending with some basic recommendations and a blueprint that synthesises the key aspects of other frameworks, the monograph primarily aims to stimulate further discussion on a relatively under-developed topic within the existing academic literature on conflict mitigation.

Download the full paper here.

Teaching the Internet and Web to forget (and forgive)?

“As humans we have the capacity to remember – and to forget. For millennia remembering was hard, and forgetting easy. By default, we would forget. Digital technology has inverted this. Today, with affordable storage, effortless retrieval and global access remembering has become the default, for us individually and for society as a whole. We store our digital photos irrespective of whether they are good or not – because even choosing which to throw away is too time-consuming, and keep different versions of the documents we work on, just in case we ever need to go back to an earlier one. Google saves every search query, and millions of video surveillance cameras retain our movements. In this article I analyze this shift and link it to technological innovation and information economics. Then I suggest why we may want to worry about the shift, and call for what I term data ecology. In contrast to others I do not call for comprehensive new laws or constitutional adjudication. Instead I propose a simple rule that reinstates the default of forgetting our societies have experienced for millennia, and I show how a combination of law and technology can achieve this shift.”

This abstract of a paper by a Professor at Harvard brings to light what we often tend to forget whenever we put up a self-depreciating or risqué video, a photo or a story on a social networking site such as Facebook or send it around via email – the Internet and web don’t easily forget. The consequences of such material available for years on end after we initially post them can range from mildly embarrassing to extremely serious.

Should the Net forget? is a recent post that examines the darker side of information in the public domain that is erroneous and yet continues to affect the lives of those connected with the story.

Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing ends with a fascinating proposal – introduction the art of forgetting to information architectures such as the Internet, the web and what is increasingly called the cloud – ubiquitous, always-on information generation, dissemination and archival systems.

I propose that we shift the default when storing personal information back to where it has been for millennia, from remembering forever to forgetting over time. I suggest that we achieve this reversal with a combination of law and software. The primary role of law in my proposal is to mandate that those who create software that collects and stores data build into their code not only the ability to forget with time, but make such forgetting the default.

Recent cases involving Facebook suggest not just concerns of the invasion of privacy, but also the dangers of information that reside on the servers of commercial corporations with incredible definitions of privacy and more dangerously, are used by many who simply don’t understand the perils of putting information only meant for close friends and relations for public display on the web.

This raises some interesting design considerations for web and Internet architectures in support of peacebuilding and reconciliation. How does one build in forgetfulness into these systems? Technically, this would far less a challenge than selling a “forgetful” system to stakeholders in a peace process, conditioned by a Google-mentality to believe that information must be stored for eternity. Does a “forgetful” system aid or impede reconciliation? If systems are made to forget, can we make them remember on demand? And if so, what would be the purpose of making the system forget in the first instance – is it just to make it harder for people to access information after a given period of time?

As Nicholas Carr avers:

So if we are programming the Web to remember, should we also be programming it to forget – not by expunging information, but by encouraging certain information to drift, so to speak, to the back of the Web’s mind?

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Technology, Context and Culture – The gap between intention and reality

The New York Times today has a story written by a mother trying to keep tabs on her family’s activities. Her travails with online calendering, group (in this case, her family) scheduling and information sharing are deeply resonant to anyone who has experienced the very same challenges in humanitarian aid and peacebuilding contexts.

Michelle finds that the best solutions in the web fail to convince her family to share information. Each member has a different priority and little time to learn or share information with no reciprocal gain. It is only when the hint of an unpleasant family meeting is mooted that everyone rushes to share information, but then too in a haphazard fashion that overwhelmed the system with information not really central to the outcome desired.

Any of this sound familiar? The author’s solution is a revealing lesson for those who design systems for complex humanitarian aid and peacebuilding processes.

Read more here.

Launch of ICT4Peace: An International Process for Crisis Management

ICT4Peace Foundation

The ICT4Peace Foundation announced the launch of ICT4Peace: An International Process for Crisis Management today.

ICT4Peace aims to enhance the performance of the international community in crisis management through the application of information Communications Technology (ICT) – technologies that can facilitate effective and sustained communication between peoples, communities and stakeholders involved in crisis management, humanitarian aid and peacebuilding. Crisis management is defined, for the purposes of this process, as civilian and/or military intervention in a crisis that may be a violent or non-violent with the intention of preventing a further escalation of the crisis and facilitating its resolution. This definition covers peace mediation, peace-keeping and peace-building activities of the international community. In bridging the fragmentation between various organisations and activities during different crisis phases, ICT4Peace aims to facilitate a holistic, cohesive and collaborative mechanisms directly in line with Paragraph 36 of the WSIS Tunis Commitment.

Please read more about ICT4Peace here. Download the concept note and roadmap of ICT4Peace as an Adobe PDF here.

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Porn on the “$100” PC

A story on TechCrunch points to the discovery that the One Laptop Per Child initiative‘s technology was used for a purpose no greater than surfing for pornography on the web! What surprised me more was the response to this incident, where a representative of the One Laptop Per Child group was reported saying that the OLPC computers would now be fitted with porn filters.

I find this typical for an enterprise that has consistently devalued the importance of teachers to guide the use of technology by the target audience of the OLPC – children. Porn filter can be bypassed and the very nature of the OLPC, by the Nicholas Negroponte’s own admission, is that it encourages its users to take it apart and hack the software.

“The children—and their teachers—will have the freedom to reshape, reinvent, and reapply their software, hardware, and content.”

The importance of good teachers – in physical classrooms or through distance education – is not going to be replaced by a cheap laptop. Teachers play more than the role of educating – they are a weathervane of the values of progressive society and a compass for the growth of impressionable adolescent minds. Instead of augmenting their work, the OLPC Foundation attempts to dislodge their importance by suggesting that their laptop, now armed with porn filters, is a panacea for the lack of robust primary and secondary education in the countries it is deployed in.

It is a great folly and a dangerous technological determinism that lays the seeds for more conflict in the future.