Technology is like a double-edged sword when it comes to spreading democracy. Not only does it have the means to support this governance method, but also to suppress it completely. We’ve unfortunately seen multiple occasions where the amazing developments of AI experts were used for “awful” means by various authoritarian governments all over the world.
Things such as control, easy recognition, and complete surveillance have in most cases been the products of tech implementation all over the world. However, there have also been things such as digital voting, free access to information, the development of free speech and various other platforms that technology has managed to deliver to our doorstep.
In this article, I’d like to outline a few things that technology solves when it comes to the spreading of democracy. Unfortunately, it’s going to sound like a direct countermeasure of problems caused by it in the past, but that’s how things usually develop right? We create one thing, and once it’s misused or abused we develop a countermeasure.
So, in a sense, this article could be titled “Tech democracy - fighting fire with fire”. Let’s look at some of the most prominent cases of tech use when it comes to promoting economic freedom, freedom of speech, and the right to privacy.
Economic freedom through Tech Shenanigans
One of the most used types of technology that support economic freedom is actually quite popular all over the world. In fact, it’s highly likely that you are using one right now to access Hackernoon through a region that may not be supporting it.
That piece of technology is called a Virtual Private Network, or a VPN for short. In most cases, a VPN is used to avoid the arbitrary regulations and prohibitions that a specific government may have installed on its people. It could have been the product of differing political views of an opposing country that tends to have a better digital presence, or simply due to arbitrary laws to “protect the citizens” when in reality they’re limiting their economic freedom, which should be guaranteed through the democratic constitution.
Let’s bring an example for both of them. One will be pretty obvious, while the other is a bit more “surprising”.
The most active use of VPNs can be seen mostly in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central, and Eastern Asia. Why? Because even if the countries located in these regions do not prohibit access to certain western platforms (which tend to be a lot more diverse), the western platforms themselves usually generate content for their local clientele only.
By using the VPN the user allows themselves to participate in specific promotions and whatnot, thus allowing him or herself the economic freedom of the global markets. No arbitrary sense of borders stands in the way of VPN, thus promoting the freedom of choice, which is something democracy is pretty much built upon.
The other, a lot more surprising version is the access to locally banned industries and products. Naturally, though, this segment will speak about products or services that are legal elsewhere but illegal in a specific country due to cultural differences and whatnot.
One of the most unusual places we see VPN being used is in the Nordics. Countries like Norway, Sweden, and Finland are one of the most prominent users of VPN even though they have access to almost 99.9% of the World Wide Web.
Why do they do this you ask? To get their hands on things such as cryptocurrencies and sometimes even sports betting options.
You see, cryptocurrencies are very heavily regulated to a point where they’re not even worth to bother with, and sports betting is completely banned, especially when it’s online. Well, banned is a harsh statement, they’re mostly restricted to government-run companies. Norway is a bit more involved in this case.
Therefore, the customers as well as some of the most popular Norwegian bookmakers, despite the government being aware, strike deals with VPN providers in order to gain access to the global markets.
This is one of the best examples of access to economic freedom in an already democratic nation. That’s why I called the article a supporter of individual democracy. The majority may have voted on banning a specific industry, but that doesn’t mean it was worth banning it.
Spreading freedom of speech
Next, we have the argument that technology supports the freedom of speech. But, before we start talking about the benefits, let’s first look at the way it has been used to suppress the freedom of speech.
Yes, it’s a very hard topic to tackle for a technology evangelist, but we need to be aware of the flaws or the ramifications that technology can have on our daily lives if fallen in the wrong hands.
The disadvantage that technology has caused in freedom of speech is the algorithms designed to purposely suppress it. For example, if a person starts criticizing their government online, the government may have several systems in place which can identify the obvious animosity towards authority, or they could simply task local social media and telecommunications providers to have these “censorship” systems in place.
Once the criticism is identified through the AI, it’s possible to either immediately place a ban or find out more about the poster.
This is basically like a power move from the government saying that “if you say something bad about us, we will find out who and where you are”. It’s a scare tactic that’s been quite effective in various countries I won’t name right now.
But here’s the beauty of the technology here. Despite the fact that it may be traced and deleted by a censorship algorithm from the government, there is absolutely nothing preventing the person from doing the same thing over and over again.
The internet platform allows for posting almost all kinds of content be it an expression of one’s ideals or the protection of specific government policy. The World Wide Web was created so that people could share ideas and somehow communicate with each other.
Furthermore, there are so many platforms nowadays where individual governments don’t have access. Those platforms are usually what drives the biggest social changes in the countries as people are able to freely communicate with each other, even when they could be hundreds of miles apart.
Protecting the right to privacy
Although it’s pretty rich talking about technology’s ability to protect a person’s privacy when in fact the whole issue of privacy was created by technology in the first place.
But, as already mentioned, we are talking about the redeeming qualities of technology when it was used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
Sure, there’s insurmountable evidence about your identity out there up for grabs. This could be purchased by advertising companies or even governments to determine what’s a better strategy to get you interested in something.
But this isn’t quite as scary as an intrusion on privacy in surveillance states. What I’m talking about is the idea of facial recognition. I’ll be completely honest here. Although the technology could be a very handy tool for identifying people like criminals and making it easier for authorities to track them down, it’s also a very terrifying tool for authoritative states.
Simply showing up to a protest against the government and having your face clearly displayed is enough to get you into the government’s blacklist. This is why we see people wear masks in the Hong Kong protests and why the government has placed a ban on it.
But now let’s look at the redeeming qualities of technology and how they’ve managed to counter this implementation of facial recognition.
You may have already seen the hologram method, where people install a small piece of hardware on a cap hey may be wearing, which projects an artificially generated face that prevents the facial recognition AI to do its job properly.
But that’s just one example of the technology’s use. In order to truly see the benefit of tech in terms of privacy, we need to refer to things such as cryptography. And what comes to mind when thinking about cryptography? The Blockchain of course.
The Blockchain is arguably the most effective type of technology we’ve developed to combat the already existing privacy issues, and all it takes is a cryptographic framework that protect’s the user’s data.
Fighting fire with fire
As it’s very clear to understand from this article, most of the issues in terms of democracy that technology combats is caused by technology itself. So basically, using tech to promote democracy is like fighting fire with fire.
But luckily, that is only about 5% of the cases. But I still wanted to outline what tech is capable of if falls into the wrong hands.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll start seeing the VPN service you’re using as more of a supplier of individual freedom, rather than an access gainer to various products online, and the comments you write on social media channels as an amazing commodity rather than a daily reality.