Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Building a Social-Democratic Information State

draft two

-- By KoljaVerhage - 5 May 2021


As the Millennial generation matures and is steadily taking over the halls of power across the world, we must ask ourselves how we want to define our generation's role in history. As the effects of ocean acidification and loss of biodiversity are impacting the external environment we are living in, so too are the effects of surveillance capitalism and the race to the bottom of the brainstem impacting our internal environment by changing the individual development of the mind, to one tied to a system of stimuli and responses that have no conception of, or respect for, the idea of the individual mind. We are now at a crucial junction of history, where the choices we make as a generation will have more impact on the direction of humanity than the invention of the compass in early imperial China. We are the last generation where humanity has a choice. We must shape our external and internal environments by operationalizing the social-democratic principles of freedom, equality, justice and solidarity in the digital age.

Privacy & Democracy

Democracy requires autonomous citizens that are free to develop and use their individual minds without undue external influence. Therefore, to protect democracy, the state must protect the privacy of citizens. This means providing citizens with the means to autonomously conduct their digital lives in secrecy and anonymity.

To provide anonymity, secrecy and autonomy, the state must regulate the surveillance and attention economy. This starts by using the democratic rule of law to support far-reaching legislative and legal initiatives in the areas of privacy and antitrust. Secondly, a democratic information state cannot exist without the formulation of new rights that protect citizens from massive-scale invasion and theft compelled by surveillance economics. "The (...) right to know and to decide who knows about us must be codified in laws and protected by democratic institutions, if it is to exist at all (Zuboff 2020)." Third, we need laws that outlaw massive-scale commercial data collection of human behavior by tying data collection to fundamental human rights and tying data use to public services that address the needs of citizens.

To provide autonomous citizens with a choice, the state needs to provide an alternative to services that encourage "the race to the bottom of the brainstem" (Harris 2016). Instead of relying on market forces to create new inequalities (i.e., by offering paid luxury services that allow the well-off to escape their behavior from being extracted, and the less well-off from being subjected to it) the government must build an alternate digital economy in which nobody gets any kind of advantage from operating engagement-based structures. The only way we can get people to shift from tech companies pursuing the infinite growth of extracted human attention, is by providing cheap and high-quality alternative services that place human autonomy at the center.

Democratic processes for creating rules and regulations operate at a much slower pace than the rate of technological development that is needed to make a difference. Therefore, the answer cannot only be legal and political, we must answer in technological terms. In return for promises to avoid engagement or surveilling based economic models for the delivery of services, governments must provide a public cloud and data storage infrastructure for businesses and civil society of every size and kind. By letting it operate on free software and ultra-low-cost hardware, the production costs of these services can be distributed locally and placed on the household, neighborhood or cooperative level, reducing the need for subsidy. This enables us to build a friction-less digital economy at ultra-low cost, with digital services that are as functional and as inexpensive as the ones that extract behavior.

Massive Online Education System

Once we have created a competing public cloud with an anti-surveillance bias that competes as a public utility with private tech companies, the mental space opens up to refocus our attention to the societal objectives that can be attained through the productive powers opened up by the Internet. The most important of which is the re-imagining of the Internet as a massive online education system, functioning as the 21st century public schools. Providing citizens with basic digital rights to education means ensuring equal access to the Internet for all, combined with the availability of ultra-low cost and unobstructed access to high-quality education platforms. Education means more than just skills development and provides a gateway to emancipation and empowerment. Not just economically but also psychologically, by shaping people's character and allowing them to fulfill their aspirations. Furthermore, education serves as a platform for social cohesion and encourages people to play a role in the determinations of democratic life. Universal digital lifelong learning is therefore the greatest improvement to human capital that a society can now make.

The Consensus for a Digital Social Bargain

The technology is already available to realize this reimagination. What is needed is the government to provide a new digital social bargain to bring technology, law and politics together. A bargain based on a deliberative model of digital citizenship that enables citizen assemblies to further truly inclusive forms of municipal self-government. Only by giving people power over data, for example through local data trusts, and allowing them to collectively decide how it is used, can a digital democracy work. Governments need to understand that a digital democracy means giving people power over that data, both to withhold it from collection and to have access to the forms of social understanding and influence that it provides.

The effects of realizing the transformation of a single state will not stop at its borders. Global considerations are implied by local achievements, so operationalizing the digital social-democratic principles in one country can do the work of the world. The social-democratic digital paradigm is a global, federated constellation of autonomous citizen assemblies, exercising control over their data to benefit their own lives thanks to technological arrangements that make new forms of prosperous work and a truly equal future.

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r6 - 06 May 2021 - 00:56:23 - KoljaVerhage
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