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An Open Regulation to Protect Our Democracies

Una regulación abierta para proteger la democracia

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Paula Forteza and Mauricio Mejía |

How can we protect our democracies, our public spaces and our institutions in the digital era? How can we ensure that digital technologies have a positive impact on democracy? Which safeguards should we put in place to build citizen’s trust in automated decision-making and the algorithms that shape our daily lives? Last May, and for the first time in an OGP Summit, those questions were at the core of the discussions around the present and the future of the open government movement.

As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated during the opening plenary, “Governments have a role to encourage platform regulation and set up the frame, but in partnership with platforms and citizens.” It is true, regulating the digital space is the responsibility of the State, and as digital technologies are becoming ubiquitous in our modern lives, it is becoming a pressing issue. The question should rather be why and how to regulate?

Why do we need to regulate the digital space?

Technological development has always been at the crossroads between utopias and dystopias. It has always inspired ideals of enhanced societies as well as fears of inevitable doom. The benefits of technology are dependent on the correct appropriation of it by our societies and on the invisible – or rather visible – hand of the State to avoid or remediate its unwanted consequences.

The Internet initially inspired a collective idea of freedom, of a new borderless and universal space.  Its founding values: openness, decentralisation, neutrality and universality, inspired a generation to believe in a new order where horizontality, collaboration, transparency and free flow of information were the rule. It symbolised the promise of a new democracy, where empowered citizens would be part of a bottom up decision-making and governments would be open and accountable.

However, today, we are far from the social-tech utopia we imagined. The privatisation of the digital space, the concentration of data and wealth in an oligopoly, the massive monetisation of personal data, the unaccountability of tech companies and the rising surveillance are some of the reasons behind a growing citizen mistrust and fear. How did this happen? Partially because we did not regulate appropriately– or rather, because we did not regulate at all. To keep a safe and open Internet, regulation is not just desired but needed.

So, how do we regulate the digital space?

To fight digital mistrust, we need to understand the impact of technologies in our lives, we need fair competition to democratize the tech market, and an updated regulation framework to protect and empower users. The State has to build a new architecture of checks and balances, flexible enough to adapt to the reality of technology in each country and to its continuous development. This architecture has to be built around a , one that understands innovation and technology for an adaptive regulation; and one that embraces the “openness culture” for accountability and multi-stakeholder collaboration. We understand regulator as the independent regulatory authority overseeing a particular economic or social activity for the benefit of the public at large.

We totally agree with Prime Minister Trudeau: “Citizens will lead to us to a safer digital world”. The Internet is by nature decentralized and collaborative; its regulation has to be too. We need to modernize our regulators, help them become more transparent and open towards citizens, civil society, economic actors and public authorities. Through open data, tools, trust, and information the regulator 2.0 has to empower citizens to become micro-regulators and shapers of the rules for the digital space.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on digital governance at the OGP Global Summit in Canada. 

Practically, what can regulators do? 

Regulators can embrace innovation and technological development like the French DPA does through its innovation lab. They can be more transparent and simplify citizens’ access to information, as some US Federal Agencies do with the eRegulations initiative to make regulations easier to find, read, and understand. They can empower users, as the French (ARCEP) and Mexican (IFT) telecom regulators do through open data, public consultations and tools. They can collaborate with stakeholders as the European regulators did with the Reg Tech ecosystem to operationalize the data protection and financial regulations with tools, apps and design. And they can co-create with citizens, as the French ARCEP is doing with its bottom-up rulemaking initiative “J’alerte l’ARCEP”.

Why should the OGP care about digital regulation?

We joined, and continue to be engaged within the OGP to build citizen trust and, above all, to protect democracy around the world. From the spread of disinformation during electoral campaigns, to the erosion of civil liberties and fundamental rights online, an unregulated Internet can become a threat to our democracies. If we want to think about democracy beyond the ballot box, we urgently need to face the fact that digital technologies can have undesired effects on public deliberation, civic space, democratic participation, and citizen trust.  As committed and responsible policy-makers, we need to regulate the digital space to protect our democracies.

If we want to achieve the transition to an Open State – as is the vision for the next OGP Steering Committee Chairs, we need to ensure that regulators become actors of the openness movement. Transparency, accountability, collaboration, integrity and co-creation have to become their new mantra.

The Internet’s ideals of openness, collaboration, horizontality and transparency sparkled a movement to renew democracy and to adapt our institutions to the 21st century. The emergence of digital technologies made the Open Government movement possible.  It is now our responsibility to guide regulators towards an Open Regulation to protect our digital spaces and thus, our democracies.

Comments (2)

Paula Reply

Hola ! me interesa este tema como me involucro

Marissa O'Neill Reply

Hola, Paula. Gracias por su interés. Sugiero que se contacte Mauricio Mejia, uno de los autores del blog quien es muy activo en el tema en Twitter: @Mau_MejiaG.

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