The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance

Steven Livingston at Brookings: “How do digital technologies affect governance in areas of limited statehood – places and circumstances characterized by the absence of state provisioning of public goods and the enforcement of binding rules with a monopoly of legitimate force?  In the first post in this series I introduced the limited statehood concept and then described the tremendous growth in mobile telephony, GIS, and other technologies in the developing world.   In the second post I offered examples of the use of ICT in initiatives intended to fill at least some of the governance vacuum created by limited statehood.  With mobile phones, for example, farmers are informed of market conditions, have access to liquidity through M-Pesa and similar mobile money platforms….
This brings to mind another type of ICT governance initiative.  Rather than fill in for or even displace the state some ICT initiatives can strengthen governance capacity.  Digital government – the use of digital technology by the state itself — is one important possibility.  Other initiatives strengthen the state by exerting pressure. Countries with weak governance sometimes take the form of extractive states or those, which cater to the needs of an elite, leaving the majority of the population in poverty and without basic public services. This is what Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson call extractive political and economic institutions.  Inclusive states, on the other hand, are pluralistic, bound by the rule of law, respectful of property rights, and, in general, accountable.  Accountability mechanisms such as a free press and competitive multiparty elections are instrumental to discourage extractive institutions.  What ICT-based initiatives might lend a hand in strengthening accountability? We can point to three examples.

Example One: Using ICT to Protect Human Rights

Nonstate actors now use commercial, high-resolution remote sensing satellites to monitor weapons programs and human rights violations.  Amnesty International’s Remote Sensing for Human Rights offers one example, and Satellite Sentinel offers another.  Both use imagery from DigitalGlobe, an American remote sensing and geospatial content company.   Other organizations have used commercially available remote sensing imagery to monitor weapons proliferation.  The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based NGO, revealed the Iranian nuclear weapons program in 2003 using commercial satellite imagery…

Example Two: Crowdsourcing Election Observation

Others have used mobile phones and GIS to crowdsource election observation.  For the 2011 elections in Nigeria, The Community Life Project, a civil society organization, created ReclaimNaija, an elections process monitoring system that relied on GIS and amateur observers with mobile phones to monitor the elections.  Each of the red dots represents an aggregation of geo-located incidents reported to the ReclaimNaija platform.  In a live map, clicking on a dot disaggregates the reports, eventually taking the reader to individual reports.  Rigorous statistical analysis of ReclaimNaija results and the elections suggest it contributed to the effectiveness of the election process.

ReclaimNaija: Election Incident Reporting System Map

ReclaimNaija: Election Incident Reporting System Map

Example Three: Using Genetic Analysis to Identify War Crimes

In recent years, more powerful computers have led to major breakthroughs in biomedical science.  The reduction in cost of analyzing the human genome has actually outpaced Moore’s Law.  This has opened up new possibilities for the use of genetic analysis in forensic anthropology.   In Guatemala, the Balkans, Argentina, Peru and in several other places where mass executions and genocides took place, forensic anthropologists are using genetic analysis to find evidence that is used to hold the killers – often state actors – accountable…”

The Economics of Access to Information

Article by Mariano Mosquera at Edmond J. Safra Research Lab: “There has been an important development in the study of the right of access to public information and the so-called economics of information: by combining these two premises, it is possible to outline an economics theory of access to public information.

Moral Hazard
The legal development of the right of access to public information has been remarkable. Many international conventions, laws and national regulations have been passed on this matter. In this regard, access to information has consolidated within the framework of international human rights law.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was the first international court to acknowledge that access to information is a human right that is part of the right to freedom of speech. The Court recognized this right in two parts, as the individual right of any person to search for information and as a positive obligation of the state to ensure the individual’s right to receive the requested information.
This right and obligation can also be seen as the demand and supply of information.
The so-called economics of information has focused on the issue of information asymmetry between the principal and the agent. The principal (society) and the agent (state) enter into a contract.This contract is based on the idea that the agent’s specialization and professionalism (or the politician’s, according to Weber) enables him to attend to the principal’s affairs, such as public affairs in this case. This representation contract does not provide for a complete delegation,but rather it involves the principal’s commitment to monitoring the agent.
When we study corruption, it is important to note that monitoring aims to ensure that the agent adjusts its behavior to comply with the contract, in order to pursue public goals, and not to serve private interests. Stiglitz4 describes moral hazard as a situation arising from information asymmetry between the principal and the agent. The principal takes a risk when acting without comprehensive information about the agent’s actions. The moral hazard means that the handling of closed, privileged information by the agent could bring about negative consequences for the principal.
In this case, it is a risk related to corrupt practices, since a public official could use the state’s power and information to achieve private benefits, and not to resolve public issues in accordance with the principal-agent contract. This creates negative social consequences.
In this model, there are a number of safeguards against moral hazard, such as monitoring institutions (with members of the opposition) and rewards for efficient and effective administration,5 among others. Access to public information could also serve as an effective means of monitoring the agent, so that the agent adjusts its behavior to comply with the contract.
The Economic Principle of Public Information
According to this principal-agent model, public information should be defined as:
information whose social interpretation enables the state to act in the best interests of society. This definition is based on the idea of information for monitoring purposes and uses a systematic approach to feedback. This definition also implies that the state is not entirely effective at adjusting its behavior by itself.
Technically, as an economic principle of public information, public information is:
information whose interpretation by the principal is useful for the agent, so that the latter adjusts its behavior to comply with the principal-agent contract. It should be noted that this is very different from the legal definition of public information, such as “any information produced or held by the state.” This type of legal definition is focused only on supply, but not on demand.
In this principal-agent model, public information stems from two different rationales: the principal’s interpretation and the usefulness for the agent. The measure of the principal’s interpretation is the likelihood of being useful for the agent. The measure of usefulness for the agent is the likelihood of adjusting the principal-agent contract.
Another totally different situation is the development of institutions that ensure the application of this principle. For example, the channels of supplied, and demanded, information, and the channels of feedback, could be strengthened so that the social interpretation that is useful for the state actually reaches the public authorities that are able to adjust policies….”

Can We Balance Data Protection With Value Creation?

A “privacy perspective” by Sara Degli Esposti: “In the last few years there has been a dramatic change in the opportunities organizations have to generate value from the data they collect about customers or service users. Customers and users are rapidly becoming collections of “data points” and organizations can learn an awful lot from the analysis of this huge accumulation of data points, also known as “Big Data.”

Organizations are perhaps thrilled, dreaming about new potential applications of digital data but also a bit concerned about hidden risks and unintended consequences. Take, for example, the human rights protections placed on personal data by the EU.  Regulators are watching closely, intending to preserve the eight basic privacy principles without compromising the free flow of information.
Some may ask whether it’s even possible to balance the two.
Enter the Big Data Protection Project (BDPP): an Open University study on organizations’ ability to leverage Big Data while complying with EU data protection principles. The study represents a chance for you to contribute to, and learn about, the debate on the reform of the EU Data Protection Directive. It is open to staff with interests in data management or use, from all types of organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, with interests in Europe.
Join us by visiting the study’s page on the Open University website. Participants will receive a report with all the results. The BDP is a scientific project—no commercial organization is involved—with implications relevant to both policy-makers and industry representatives..
What kind of legislation do we need to create that positive system of incentive for organizations to innovate in the privacy field?
There is no easy answer.
That’s why we need to undertake empirical research into actual information management practices to understand the effects of regulation on people and organizations. Legal instruments conceived with the best intentions can be ineffective or detrimental in practice. However, other factors can also intervene and motivate business players to develop procedures and solutions which go far beyond compliance. Good legislation should complement market forces in bringing values and welfare to both consumers and organizations.
Is European data protection law keeping its promise of protecting users’ information privacy while contributing to the flourishing of the digital economy or not? Will the proposed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) be able to achieve this goal? What would you suggest to do to motivate organizations to invest in information security and take information privacy seriously?
Let’s consider for a second some basic ideas such as the eight fundamental data protection principles: notice, consent, purpose specification and limitation, data quality, respect of data subjects’ rights, information security and accountability. Many of these ideas are present in the EU 1995 Data Protection Directive, the U.S. Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) andthe 1980 OECD Guidelines. The fundamental question now is, should all these ideas be brought into the future, as suggested in the proposed new GDPR, orshould we reconsider our approach and revise some of them, as recommended in the 21st century version of the 1980 OECD Guidelines?
As you may know, notice and consent are often taken as examples of how very good intentions can be transformed into actions of limited importance. Rather than increase people’s awareness of the growing data economy, notice and consent have produced a tick-box tendency accompanied by long and unintelligible privacy policies. Besides, consent is rarely freely granted. Individuals give their consent in exchange for some product or service or as part of a job relationship. The imbalance between the two goods traded—think about how youngsters perceive not having access to some social media as a form of social exclusion—and the lack of feasible alternatives often make an instrument, such as the current use made of consent, meaningless.
On the other hand, a principle such as data quality, which has received very limited attention, could offer opportunities to policy-makers and businesses to reopen the debate on users’ control of their personal data. Having updated, accurate data is something very valuable for organizations. Data quality is also key to the success of many business models. New partnerships between users and organizations could be envisioned under this principle.
Finally, data collection limitation and purpose specification could be other examples of the divide between theory and practice: The tendency we see is that people and businesses want to share, merge and reuse data over time and to do new and unexpected things. Of course, we all want to avoid function creep and prevent any detrimental use of our personal data. We probably need new, stronger mechanisms to ensure data are used for good purposes.
Digital data have become economic assets these days. We need good legislation to stop the black market for personal data and open the debate on how each of us wants to contribute to, and benefit from, the data economy.”

Tech challenge develops algorithms to predict

SciDevNet: “Mathematical models that use existing socio-political data to predict mass atrocities could soon inform governments and NGOs on how and where to take preventative action.
The models emerged from one strand of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, a competition run by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and NGO Humanity United. The winners were announced last month (18 November) and will now work with the organiser to further develop and pilot their innovations.
The five winners from different countries who won between US$1,000 and US$12,000, were among nearly 100 entrants who developed algorithms to predict when and where mass atrocities are likely to happen.
Around 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by conflict, sometimes including atrocities such as genocides, mass rape and ethnic cleansing, according to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011. Many of these countries are in the developing world.
The competition organisers hope the new algorithms could help governments and human rights organisations identify at-risk regions, potentially allowing them to intervene before mass atrocities happen.
The competition started from the premise that certain social and political measurements are linked to increased likelihood of atrocities. Yet because such factors interact in complex ways, organisations working to prevent atrocities lack a reliable method of predicting when and where they might happen next.
The algorithms use sociopolitical indicators and data on past atrocities as their inputs. The data was drawn from archives such as the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone, a data set that encodes more than 200 million globally newsworthy events, recording cultural information such as the people involved, their location and any religious connections.”
Link to the winners of the Model Challenge

Inside Avaaz – can online activism really change the world?

The Guardian: “With 30 million members, Avaaz is an organisation with ambitions to save us all through technology. Carole Cadwalladr meets its founder Ricken Patel to find out what it has achieved…But then, this is the reality of 21st century protest: it’s a beauty parade. A competition for the thing that we all seem to have less of: attention. The TV cameras do show up, though, and a young Rohingya woman from Burma’s Muslim minority gives moving interviews to journalists about the terrible human rights abuses her family have endured. And a dozen or so mostly fresh-faced young people show up to offer their support. The protest has been organised by Avaaz, an online activist organisation, and these are Avaazers. They may have just signed an online petition, or “liked” a cause on Facebook, or donated to a campaign – to save Europe’s bees from pesticides, or to defend Masai land rights in Tanzania, or to “stand by” Edward Snowden. And, depending on who you believe, they’re either inventing a new type of 21st-century protest or they’re a bunch of idle slacktivists who are about as likely to start a revolution as they are to renounce their iPhones and give up Facebook.
In just six years, Avaaz – which means “voice” in various languages – has become a global pressure group to be reckoned with. It’s a new kind of activism that isn’t issue-led, it’s issues-led. It’s human rights abuses in Burma, or it’s the Syrian civil war, or it’s threats against the Great Barrier Reef or it’s homophobia in Costa Rica. It’s whatever its supporters, guided by the Avaaz team, choose to click on most this month. And if you hadn’t heard of Avaaz before, it’s probably only a matter of time….
“We’re like a laboratory for virality. For every campaign we test perhaps 20 different versions of it to see what people want.” It tweaks and it tweaks and it tweaks, changing the wording, pictures, call for action, and only then does it send it out on public release. Sam Barratt, Avaaz’s head of press, shows me the previous versions of its email about the Burma campaign. “Changing the meme at the top, or the photograph, massively affects the number of clicks. Eighteen versions were tested. People think we just chuck it out there, but there’s a huge amount of data sophistry into how we design the campaigns.” And, just as Amazon and Google try to predict our behaviour, and adjust their offerings based on our past preferences, so does Avaaz. It uses algorithms to detect things we perhaps don’t even know about ourselves.
“It’s a tremendously evolving science, internet engagement,” says Patel. “But we develop a picture of someone from their previous engagements with us. So, for example, we can see that a certain set of people, based on their previous behaviour, might be interested in starting a campaign, and another set won’t be, but may be interested in signing something. We can tailor it to the individual.”
Everything is viral now, says Patel, “from financial crises to health epidemics to ideas”. And learning the lessons of that and of how to garner attention from some of the most attention-deficient people on the planet – young people with electronic devices – has been Avaaz’s masterstroke….
A crisistunity is another Avaaz-ism. “Though I think we originally got it from The Simpsons,” says Patel. “It’s a mixture of crisis and opportunity. We’re at this extraordinary moment in history. We have the power to wipe out our species. But at the same time, we’ve had tremendous progress in the past 30 years. We have more than halved global poverty. We’ve radically increased the status of women. There are tremendous reasons for hope and optimism.”
There is something very Avaazian about the crisistunity, I come to think, in that it’s borrowed something slick and witty from popular culture and re-purposed it for something which used to be called the Greater Good. And then given it a thick dollop of added earnestness.”

Open Government Guide

Open Government Partnership: “We were proud to unveil the new Open Government Guide… The Guide—with its accompanying web site—has been developed to support this action planning in three ways :

To read the Guide go to You can also use the Report Builder function and create a custom download tailored to your own country or to the officials and other audiences in the local planning process.
Anyone seeking governance reforms, from inside or outside government, faces political as well as logistical challenges, so the Guide is also intended to serve as a way to frame the sometimes difficult conversations about the steps to make reform a reality and show examples from other countries
The OGP process includes four “cohorts” of countries. The largest group are currently drafting their first action plans, and another cohort are already at work on their second plans. The Open Government Guide can help any group seeking to promote reform.
While the Guide is quite comprehensive, it is also a living document. We will continue to add more detailed topic areas. A new section is currently in development on the security sector, drafted by the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative and including recommendations on transparency and accountability of military spending and on surveillance, drawing on the new International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance and the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (The Tswhane Principles). To preview and comment on this document, please watch for the draft version at “

Explore the world’s constitutions with a new online tool

Official Google Blog: “Constitutions are as unique as the people they govern, and have been around in one form or another for millennia. But did you know that every year approximately five new constitutions are written, and 20-30 are amended or revised? Or that Africa has the youngest set of constitutions, with 19 out of the 39 constitutions written globally since 2000 from the region?
The process of redesigning and drafting a new constitution can play a critical role in uniting a country, especially following periods of conflict and instability. In the past, it’s been difficult to access and compare existing constitutional documents and language—which is critical to drafters—because the texts are locked up in libraries or on the hard drives of constitutional experts. Although the process of drafting constitutions has evolved from chisels and stone tablets to pens and modern computers, there has been little innovation in how their content is sourced and referenced.
With this in mind, Google Ideas supported the Comparative Constitutions Project to build Constitute, a new site that digitizes and makes searchable the world’s constitutions. Constitute enables people to browse and search constitutions via curated and tagged topics, as well as by country and year. The Comparative Constitutions Project cataloged and tagged nearly 350 themes, so people can easily find and compare specific constitutional material. This ranges from the fairly general, such as “Citizenship” and “Foreign Policy,” to the very specific, such as “Suffrage and turnouts” and “Judicial Autonomy and Power.”
Our aim is to arm drafters with a better tool for constitution design and writing. We also hope citizens will use Constitute to learn more about their own constitutions, and those of countries around the world.”

Behold: A Digital Bill of Rights for the Internet, by the Internet

Mashable: “The digital rights conversation was thrust into the mainstream spotlight after news of ongoing, widespread mass surveillance programs leaked to the public. Always a hot topic, these revelations sparked a strong online debate among the Internet community.
It also made us here at Mashable reflect on the digital freedoms and protections we feel each user should be guaranteed as a citizen of the Internet. To highlight some of the great conversations taking place about digital rights online, we asked the digital community to collaborate with us on the creation of a crowdsourced Digital Bill of Rights.
After six weeks of public discussions, document updates and changes, as well as incorporating input from digital rights experts, Mashable is pleased to unveil its first-ever Digital Bill of Rights, made for the Internet, by the Internet.”

International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

Final version, 10 July 2013:  “As technologies that facilitate State surveillance of communications advance, States are failing to ensure that laws and regulations related to communications surveillance adhere to international human rights and adequately protect the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. This document attempts to explain how international human rights law applies in the current digital environment, particularly in light of the increase in and changes to communications surveillance technologies and techniques. These principles can provide civil society groups, industry, States and others with a framework to evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights.
These principles are the outcome of a global consultation with civil society groups, industry and international experts in communications surveillance law, policy and technology.”

The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Peter Buffett in the New York Times: “It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one.”