<html><head /> <style type="text/css"> <!-- .style1 {font-family: Verdana} --> </style><body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>Double-Clicking on Democracy</title><meta name="keywords" content="davies,future,ian,information,internet,manipulation,moral,morality,politics,privacy,public,simon,democracy,technology,angell,big,brother,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">Double-Clicking on Democracy</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction</strong></span><span class="style1"> </span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Utopia or dystopia? Is information technology the tool to create a rosy democracy or the sword which will ultimately destroy global society? Ian Angell and Simon Davies argue against the mass invasion of privacy engendered by governments keen to track our every move on CCTV and in genetic code. A technologically enhanced democracy ensures that the needs of the masses dismantle the rights of the individual.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">When did democracy don the mantle of morality? For how much longer can we keep up the pretence that democracy is a stepping-stone to a global social utopia? When will it be seen for what it really is: a body count of the manipulated mob, to be abused by any determined control freak; an alliance of cronyism, corruption and self-interest. Steered by a concoction of vox-pops and pick 'n' mix marketeering, governments ram through ever more pointless and dangerous legislation--proclaiming, invariably, that they are acting for the "public good."</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Iceland's government has sold the medical records of its population to deCODE Genetics, a private company. The UK population is forced to register names and addresses on the electoral roll; the roll is exempt from the Data Protection Act and is sold to whoever will pay. Burglars cross-reference likely targets against directories on compact disks and then telephone to check that their victims are out before breaking and entering.</span><br> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A democratic vote is an excellent way to justify trampling on individual privacy. Tony Blair wants every police force to follow the example of the Lothian and Borders police, who are archiving DNA data from everyone arrested. Apparently, 75 per cent of the local population supports this action. But did the people of Edinburgh realise that a motoring offence would place them in the database? Elsewhere in the UK, 92 per cent of the citizens of the London Borough of Newham want CCTV cameras to watch over their town centre. Newham is at the forefront of new technology; it uses face-recognition software. The movement of individuals can now be tracked around the borough. The odd few per cent who want anonymity will just have to shop elsewhere. Plato claimed that democracy always leads to despotism and tyranny. Big Brother turns out to be the manipulated voice of the tyrannical masses insisting on a state-led invasion of privacy.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">What do we get in return for abandoning our privacy? An insignificant input into an inconsequential national election of a nanny-state, every four or five years, that has little or no influence on the general scheme of things. But do we care? The BBC extended its nine o'clock news bulletin by 20 minutes to report the 1997 General Election. Its normal viewing figures of 5.5 million dropped to less than 4 million. The cost of administering the same election on the remote Atlantic islands of St. Kilda would have cost the 29 adults living there a total of &#163;5,000. They decided not to bother and save the money.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Meanwhile, pious words abound concerning "extending democracy" in an "information society." The United States administration has placed more than 100,000 documents on the Internet. However, a snowstorm of selected information from Washington (or Brussels, or Westminster) changes nothing. True, cable, telephone and the Internet will enable the public to receive far more relevant and in-depth explanations of political issues. But will they participate more intelligently in the political process?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">They won't need to. The new generation of interactive television will monitor customer habits, viewing patterns, spending profiles and opinions, and offer a quick and easy online democracy, complete with personalised prompts.</span><br> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">But governments won't have it all their own way. Far from allowing the manipulated voter into the policy and decision-making process, technology actually spreads "demosclerosis" (Jonathan Rauch), a disease of government. Mass lobbying by vested interests causes stalemates on every issue and forces through economically insane proposals, thereby driving government to its knees. On 5 November 1996, voters in California approved Proposition 218. All property-related assessments, fees and charges have to be approved (but more likely disapproved) by the vote of property owners. Consequently, Moody's lowered the ratings on the various bonds of the City of Los Angeles, completing a self-fulfilling prophecy that the city would lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The old cosy relationship between lobbyists and politicians, riding the gravy train of public money, is coming off the rails. So should individuals be worried about the rabble-rousers in government? Modern technology extends the opportunity for any self-appointed control freak to mobilise the masses. Anyone with deep pockets can manipulate the bigoted moral majority and call for support on single-issue campaigns. They will disseminate blacklists of names of those who dare stand out against them.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Perhaps the difference these days is that not only are desperate governments more willing to succumb to such tactics, but the exposed politician has become a rabbit caught in the headlights, needing to please all of the people, all of the time, on every single issue, or else face their wrath come re-election time. Adding to the paranoia are advertisements, opinion polls, talk-radio spots, and mass telephone calls funnelled through toll-free numbers. Astronomical sums of money will be needed for mass propaganda. In a democracy, like everywhere else, money talks.</span><br> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Self-serving politicians will promise a wish list of jam today and jam tomorrow. The hell of a collectivist heaven will poll the opinions of the herd to reinstate capital punishment, to ban homosexuality and immigration, and to insist on a fair distribution of wealth by stealing from the few rich. However, as Alexander Tytler suggests, "a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury."</span><br> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Today, that largesse is free welfare, medical payouts and other social-security safety nets. But no society can vote itself into an economic utopia. The invisible hands of untamed economic forces are at play. Individuals, companies and countries can only steer within the limits allowed by the flow of self-organising trends of the global economy. Going against the flow is futile. If a society doesn't earn its wages, then economic reality can be kept at bay for only a little while.</span><br> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Ultimately, by insisting that society can pay itself unreasonable salary levels, or set excessive levels of taxation, either inflation or recession will return, and jobs will disappear. Nevertheless, to get elected, democratic governments will be forced to play this game. The needs of the masses will justify the invasion of individual privacy to check that everyone is paying their fair share. However, the rich, their wealth and their privacy will emigrate, as Christopher Lasch predicted in <I>The Revolt of the Elites</I>. In the Information Age, the politics of envy is suicide. The big political question of the coming decades is how to find a socially acceptable means of dismantling democracy.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">A version of this story first appeared in the Summer 2000 edition of LSE Magazine. Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.</span></td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>