I’m perhaps a bit idealistic, but I think that there are clear contemporary demonstrations of democracy ‘working’. Today’s example comes to us from Europe, where the European Parliament has voted to restore a graduated response to copyright infringement that pertains to when and how individuals can be disconnected from the Internet. Disconnecting individuals from the ‘net, given its important role in citizens’ daily lives, can only be done with judicial oversight; copyright holders and ISPs alone cannot conspire to remove file sharers. This suggests that any three-strike policy in the EU will require judicial oversight, and threatens to radically reform how the copyright industry can influence ISPs.
What might this mean for North America? If policy learning occurs, will we see imports of an EU-style law on this matter? Do we want our policy actors to adopt an EU-model, which could be used to implement a three-strike rule that just includes judicial review at the third strike? In Canada, with the tariffs that we pay, there are already permissible conditions for file sharing – do we really want to see strong American or WIPO copyright legally enforced on our soil?
The past couple of days have been interesting, to say the least, when looking at recent shifts and decisions in American legislatures. Specifically, the House is looking to shield bloggers from federal investigations by providing them with the same protections as reporters, and that after the telecommunication companies that ‘theoretically’ (read: actually) cooperated with NSA spying activities have refused to cooperate with Congressional investigations that they have been let off the hook. Let’s get into it.
Federal Journalists and Professional Bloggers Shielded
The US has had a long history of journalistic freedoms, but in the face of recent technological advances they have refused to extend those freedoms to users of new journalistic mediums. Bloggers, in particular, are becoming a more and more important source of information in the US – some dedicate their lives to blogging and use it for professional gain. Until recently they have (typically) been refused the same status as traditional journalists, which has made it risky for bloggers to refuse to disclose their sources if hauled into courts of law.
One of the central issues facing democratic societies is that technology is outpacing the regulatory powers of politics and ethics. Ethicists are involved towards the end of product design – they are used to evaluate how to ‘spin’ ethical implications rather than developing normative frameworks that ensure that only ethical technologies are developed. Ethics, in this situation, identify something that is good, rather than something that is right. Politics act as a terminal regulatory point – while they legislate laws that are intended to guide the kinds of technological research, as politics are subjugated to money their ability to legitimately influence research diminishes
Scolve, writing in the mid-90s, recognized that a series of challenges stood before technologically inclined societies. In particular, he was concerned that if new technologies’ social effectswere not taken accounted for productivity would likely increase and be supplemented with corresponding declines in “political engagement, attenuation of community bonds, experiential divorce from nature, individuals purposelessness, and expanding disparities of wealth” (87). In the face of these damaging political effects we must broaden technological agendas to account for technologies’ possible effects on social and political fields – we must ultimately situate long-term democratic publicity ahead of fulfilling short-term economic objectives.
The essay that I am discussing was one of the two that won The Dalton Camp Award this year. You can read the full version of the essay at the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting website.
Generally, Lewis’s argument can be summed up in his line “thanks to weblogs, any civic-minded citizen with a computer, a modem and the moxie to express their opinions can contribute to the media and the public dialogue.” Blogs provide a way for citizens to break through the increasing corporate control of media outlets – only 1% of newspapers are independently owned today,and in this environment blogs offer a way to expand the number of news sources because its low cost of entry. Free services such as Blogger and Livejournal, where all of the hard work is done by a company behind the scenes, are perfect for citizen-journalists to quickly begin publishing.