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Infrastructure of Democracy

Inspired by The Infrastructure of Democracy - Strengthening the Open Internet for a Safer World

The following is a paper in progress for anyone to edit.

I. The Internet is a foundation of democratic society in the common millenium, the first in which all human beings can find common ground and make common cause for the benefit of all life on this planet. The ethical and ecological integrity in of our single global society require that core values entailed by the Internet and by democracy, be respected:

1. The Internet is fundamentally an open, participatory, means of freedom of expression — it was designed to increase the diversity and reach of information and ideas. It can be, but must not be, made into a means to find, monitor, censor, or imprison dissidents.

2. The Internet allows people to communicate and collaborate across borders and belief systems. It began as an attempt to unify academic cultures - it continues to unify the real world cultures it touches, and provide a neutral base to begin the difficult work of peacemaking among militarily competitive nations and movements.

3. The Internet unites families and cultures in diaspora; it connects people, helping them to form civil societies that may be independent of ethnic and national origins, or reinforce them, as required. It keeps exiles in touch with local events and lures them back home.

4. The Internet can directly foster economic development by connecting people to many sources of information and open markets, with a low transaction cost, so that global service providers compete on a single level playing field to the benefit of all. Flat rate telecom for instance was a direct result of VoIP competition. Other industry areas would also benefit from opening up to an open competition with Internet technologies defined by IETF,W3 and wta and carried to ITU and ISO to be spread.

5. The Internet introduces new ideas and views to those who may be isolated and prone to political violence. Thomas Barnett's theory of Core and Gap may apply: those who see the core of the world economy as accessible and open to them will work through the system, those who see an unbridgeable gap with many hostile forces stopping them from reaching a level playing field for the ideas or services they offer, will work against that system. A particularly poignant example is the various ways Islam has been advanced, interpreted and (depending on one's ideology) either reformed, accelerated or inhibited by the net. OP editors note: Islam as a political movement is probably too diverse to have any single concept of progress or failure.

6. The Internet is neither above nor below the law. The same legal and political principles that apply in the physical world also apply to human activities conducted over the Internet. This also works in reverse: legal and political norms of due process must be embedded in net institutions. This has been sadly lacking in many cases: while it is considered an affront to democratic values to gag and expel citizens from live forums they attend to air their views, it is common in online forums.

II. It is naive to imagine that democracy or communications technology don't have inherent problems. Democracy is itself a means or a technology to discover new political options and require minorities to convey and convince the majority not to fight their ideals and ideas. Technologies of communication, as ably documented by Lawrence Lessig in his book Code, permit software architects incredible power to decide what can and can't be done by software designers.

Decentralized systems — the power of many as exercised in mass peer review and by citizen journalists — can also combat decentralized foes, but only if there is a democratic approach to the design of these technologies. They must fight terror on a psychological level by providing empowerment, not just by empowering authorities to see all and know all and react to all. Has that ever worked? Really? Ever?

1. Terrorist networks are highly decentralized and distributed. A centralized effort by itself cannot effectively fight terrorism. Its errors can however be used to justify terrorism or mistrust of democracy.

2. Terrorism is everyone's issue. The internet connects everyone. A connected citizenry is the best pre-emptive defense against both terrorist propaganda and abuse of power by all leaders: partisan, economic and military. Military leaders like Osama bin Laden - who is idolized by many - are unlikely to be able to seize and abuse power as easily after a war if there is a tradition of both citizen engagement and open dialogue about hard political problems. Alternatives such as pre-emptive invasions of countries without an open culture are a last resort and quite likely now obsolete as they overextend and stress exactly the trust relationships required to rebuild the peace. For three or four hundred billion Euros, one can buy a lot of citizen empowerment even in a very repressive place.

3. As we saw in the aftermath of the March 11 Madrid bombing, response was spontaneous and rapid because the citizens were able to use the Internet to organize themselves. They got the political change they seemed to have wanted all along. After the July 7 London bombings the BBC received many citizen accounts and pictures digitally - so many that they had to change strategy to accomodate citizen journalists' input. In Iran, which has been targetted for an invasion by the Bush administration, the former Vice President has encouraged every candidate to start a blog. Farsi is now the fourth most used language online. Even a flawed or corrupt democracy can be reformed using the Internet. Countries where ballots exist at all, even if they are counted by cronies or proprietary software, have a chance to reform that countries without ballots (e.g. those using Diebold Voting Systems) don't have. For those countries invasion or breakup may be the only way.

4. As we are seeing in the distributed world of weblogs, large public wikis and other kinds of troll-friendly citizen media, truth emerges best in open conversation among people with divergent views. Even so-called "trolling" has its place and purpose and cannot be defined as a nuisance only. When was the last time a US Presidential debate was truly troll-free?

III. The best response to abuses of openness is more openness. To put open politics in force takes an iron will and perhaps also Crockers' Rules.

1. Open, transparent social and technical environments are more secure and more stable than closed, opaque ones. If nothing else the more open can be seen to be crumbling, when it is, and more people see themselves as having a stake in the ultimate success of them, since more people can see themselves as someday leading that society or technology effort. Does anyone really think someone other than Bill Gates can lead Microsoft? While many people actively compete with Richard Stallman to lead the free software movement, inventing new ideas like open source (Chris Peterson) or Share Alike (Lawrence Lessig).

2. While Internet services can be interrupted, too easily, they are near impossible to truly stop. the Internet as a global system is ultimately resilient to attacks, even sophisticated and widely distributed
ones. It is about as robust now as a major developed nation power grid: outages of more than a day or two, anywhere, are extremely rare. Now that the Internet is about as reliable as power networks, it can be considered to be a utility. A role remains for very high reliability POTS, wireless and emergency response services, but daily life will be increasingly enabled by digital technology that "works most of the time."

3. The connectedness of the Internet – people talking with people – counters the very divisiveness terrorists are trying to exploit. It also counters somewhat less divisive threats like overly partisan debate in the US Congress or spin doctoring.

4. The openness of the Internet may be exploited by terrorists, but as with democratic governments, openness minimizes the likelihood of terrorist acts and enables effective responses to terrorism. To focus on the fact that the terrorists use the net to communicate is no more useful than to focus on the fact that they drive on the same roads as the commuters they attack. Trying to create "secure roads" has only a post facto investigative power, not pre-emptive preventative power. To chill citizens by making it easy for both politicians and corporations to track "who wrote that", is the worst approach, a Panopticon and a carceral state. It will not stand, it will be the basis of sympathies even with terrorist groups, and it is not an option. Not ever. OP editors note: in open politics itself politicians who advocate tracking every word written to a body are targetted for elimination from public life. This is one of the few zero tolerance goals. And we, trolls take this particularly seriously.

IV. Well-meaning regulation of the Internet in established democracies could threaten the development of emerging democracies, and enable those who wish the democracy to remain "emerging" but never robust or truly representative of the citizens' actual views (however obnoxious).

1. Terrorism cannot destroy the internet, but over-zealous legislation in response to terrorism could. Governments should consider mandating changes to core Internet functionality only with extraordinary caution. This must never be done without mass peer review: any policy proposed by anyone that has not been literally gnawed to death by many thousands (not merely hundreds) of anonymous trolls is not acceptable as a simultaneous policy for the Internet and thus the whole Earth.

2. Some government initiatives that look reasonable in fact violate the basic principles that have made the Internet a success. To "look reasonable" to people in power is not a criteria to consider a policy of such scope. The response to any such policy proposal must be "how could this be subverted?" If there are many ways to subvert, the policy simply cannot work.

3. For example, several interests have called for an end to anonymity. This would be highly unlikely to stop determined terrorists, but it would have a chilling effect on political activity and thereby reduce freedom and transparency. Limiting anonymity would have a cascading series of unintended results that would hurt freedom of expression, especially in countries seeking transition to democratic rule. OP editors note: a long list of ways to remain anonymous beyond a reasonable doubt will be maintained at openpolitics.ca itself as a policy.

V. We urge governments to:

1. Embrace the open Internet as a foundation of Common Millenium democracy, and a critical tool in the fight against terrorism, isolation, xenophobia, cliques and cronyism.

2. Recognizing the Internet's value as a critical communications infrastructure, invest to strengthen it against attacks and recover quickly from damage. Over time the WiMax standard may be a basis for community emergency response teams that can continue emergency response even if centralized systems fail. In New Orleans, the 911 system was "out" even a month after Hurricane Katrina. This is unacceptable. The only approach that seemed feasible was to deploy WiMax. We submit that this is enough argument to adopt it worldwide as the standard way to do emergency-ready resilient signal infrastructure. A February 2005 open letter from Civic Efficiency Group to Ralph Goodale, the Canadian finance minister, for instance, asked for help to make Canada's cities emergency-ready and even "immune to terrorism" by investing more in training, statistics, LANS, wireless, and quality management in government. OP editors note: Other standards such as those that the Civic Efficiency Group advances in Canada are debated at openpolitics.ca itself.

3. Work to spread net and web access more evenly, aggressively addressing the Digital Divide to provide Internet access for all who can make the connection. Acclerate the integration of wired phone and FM radio and AM radio and fax into functional networks such as the radio station in Mali that takes faxed in questions from its listeners, answers them on the air after researchers find the answers on the net. This is how the one billion people in absolute poverty can be best served: by making public radio the main tool to avoid malnutrition, diarrhea, dehydration and other common ills. To leave this only up to commercial interests is to risk advertisers setting agendas that deceive the public and profit from misery.

4. To protect free speech and association, endorse the availability of anonymous communications for all, including the very poorest, who have at present great fear (and great reason to fear) to speak up and be identified. This may be a more basic and fundamental right than access to clean water and security of person, as it might be absolutely required to achieve those things. History says it is: the right to complain and propose new ways to do things, was put in place in all of the developed nations long before there were any robust rules that ensured clean water, due judicial process, or any other "right".

5. Early attempts at international governance of the Internet will be wrong-headed and simply attempt to increase the power of the single command hierarchy: Such tinkering can introduce processes that have unintended effects and violate the bottom-up democratic nature of the Net. While it is imperative that the EU, Arab League, Latin America and China respect a common Internet names and numbers system, it is by no means likely that the US Department of Commerce, ICANN and IANA are the correct institutions to manage this in the long run without giving in to serious political pressures.

6. The Infrastructure of Democracy is both a global concern and a global resource. The debate around it should begin with a positive decision to put standards of open politics in force everywhere, in all languages, in all countries, and with support and limits respectful of every ethical tradition but not respectful of the "need" for leaders to control people or what they say. There is no other basis for a decision on this:

You are either with us, or with the terrorists: open politics itself, as it evolves and becomes redefined in practice, shall evolve from the starting point of open politics in force. Or, as the only alternative, the single command hierarchy that presumes itself wiser than democracy and all anonymous trolls, will be infiltrated, upset and eradicated by the very people who support democracy the most: we, trolls.

VI. To elected politicians committed to expose all body identity on the net and attach every word to a name of a body, we can say only this:

Anonymity is no longer negotiable. This is the line in the sand.

Respect it, or resign.

There is no conceivable route to security of person that begins with making all persons so insecure that anyone with power who reads what they say, can find out who they are, reliably, easily, and perhaps even secretly.

This is only a route to a global total war.

You have been warned:

Do not raise this as an issue again. Ever.