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Democratic accountability in the digital age

Date added: July 4, 2017

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There is, this Brief argues, a new governance paradigm emerging, characterised by the rise of "governance by networks" and "rule by data". This flux, say the authors, is marked by a hollowing out of the state, replacement of human functions in public administration by digital technologies, and networks where private actors are becoming part of government.
The resultant crisis of governability calls for new institutional mechanisms to protect and promote democratic values, as old ones are rendered inadequate. For actors concerned with questions of rights and social justice, two imperatives arise:
  • the need to articulate and call for institutional norms, rules and practices that guarantee democratic accountability in this emerging context
  • the need to claim the civic-public value of digital technologies so that data and the new possibilities for networking are harnessed towards a robust and vibrant grassroots democracy and citizen empowerment.

This document examines and discusses shifts in the contemporary democratic fabric by focusing on emerging technological practices in government. It explores key concerns, and articulates the gaps in current legal-policy measures necessary to promote participatory democracy in the digital age.

The Brief argues that reclaiming democracy in the digital age calls for action on many fronts, including:

  • norm development for a digitalised public service delivery model that guarantees citizen rights
  • laws and protocols on data that cover privacy safeguards, transparency and accountability considerations (including open data practices), social ownership of data, regulation of the data economy
  • rules and protocols for participatory and deliberative democracy, including digital rights of citizens
  • reining in run-away "network governance" through legal-institutional mechanisms that check anti-democratic practices of private and public actors.
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