Monitoring Technologies and Digital Governance

Monitoring Technologies and Digital Governance

Peter Danielson (University of British Columbia, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-937-3.ch101
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Abstract

Digital government is a technological adventure. It applies new technologies—in particular, computer-mediated communication—to the ongoing development of democratic forms of government. While the primary focus in digital government literature is on computer-mediated politics and formal governance, these technologies have wider effects. Generally, new information technologies enable new forms of control (see Beniger, 1986, for an excellent history and the general connections between information, control, and governance). The technological changes that make digital government an option alter the possibilities of governance at all levels. Driven by the declining price of computer hardware (so-called Moore’s law) sensors (e.g., cameras, RFID tags), computers and networking make it possible to find out about and to control many hithertofore uncontrolled aspects of our lives. This article considers the effect of new monitoring technologies in the broad sense introduced by McDonald (2001) as inclusive of the range of control mechanisms—personal, informal, social, market, legal, and political—that we deploy. In general, we expect technological innovation to create ethical problems. Innovations move communities from technological and social situations for which their norms are well adapted to new situations in which the fit tends to be worse (Binmore, 2004). Even seemingly small changes in technology, especially communications and monitoring technology, produce significant stress on norms. (Consider how cell phones and then cell phone cameras challenge norms governing privacy in public spaces.) Therefore, we should expect moves toward digital government to face ethical problems. This article considers problems due to a suite of monitoring and surveillance technologies that promises significant benefits but raises issues in terms of the values of control, privacy, and accountability.

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