May 2009 E-Democracy News – Hot Topics

E-Democracy News


 May 2009 

Volume 1, Issue 5 


Hot Topics 



Michelle Fure EditorEditor’s Choice: Posting video on government committee proceedings

Governments around the world are beginning to understand the impact that video has on various proceedings – many legislatures, parliaments, and councils have begun to videotape or stream hearings and proceedings, making them available to millions of viewers via the Internet.

However, a recent dispute over video of Canadian Parliament proceedings shows government officials still suffer anxiety over this unprecedented exposure to their legislative processes.

Michael Geist, legal commentator and professor at the University of Ottawa, writes about a recent situation in Canada, that he calls a missed opportunity to embrace the YouTube generation.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a broadcasting advocacy group, began to post videos of committee proceedings in early 2007. However, recently, lawyers from the House of Commons argued that posting these proceedings violated copyright and could be considered as contempt of Parliament. These videos are widely used to educate constituents on policy issues and legislative proposals. Nevertheless, the House of Commons contends they violate the law and have asked that they be removed.

Policies indicate that use of these videos is restricted to very specific use – and use outside those constraints requires prior permission from the speaker of the house. Geist notes that this policy stands in stark contrast to situation in the United States, where these proceedings are public and any video taken is fair game for the public domain.

Now authorities are working to negotiate policies related to these videos. As this issue evolves, it will be interesting to see whether the Canadian Parliament will understand the benefits of using online video as an educational tool.

Facebook Democracy in Iran
Politics Online writes about how voters in Iran are turning to Facebook to find independent presidential candidates. The formal campaign began May 22 and continues until the June 12 election day. According to the post, 47 million of Iran’s 70 million people have mobile phones and nearly one-third have Internet access. Plus, more than 60 percent of the population are under 30, which is largely fueling the Internet’s role.

The Financial Times estimated that 475 people have registered for the election, but only three are serious contenders to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has created a social network presence for the contest.

Accessing Congress’s Research
The New York Times recently editorialized about the availability of Congressional Research Service reports – which still are not widely available online.

The U.S. Senate has introduced a resolution to make these reports freely available online. However, this resolution may have a difficult path ahead. The Times suggests this is an important step for Congress, since so many people who are connected in Washington can access this important information, but the citizens who support it generally cannot.

If at first you don’t succeed…
This month from the UK’s Local Democracy blog, a call to action: practice may not make perfect when it comes to e-democracy projects, but not practicing for fear of failure will inherently doom progress. The post provides an interesting read and inspiration to innovate in this emerging context. Improving?
The Clickocracy blog at the Washington Post recently put together a panel of experts to grade on three criteria: transparency, accessibility, and engagement. The group’s first assessment provided an average of C+. And in round two, the group’s average grade had improved to a solid B, largely because the site has reflected more opportunities to engage citizens in a short amount of time, including accepting comments and live-blogging.

However, some pervasive criticisms still exist – limited ability to see posted comments, lack of searchability on many budget documents, and limited ability to reuse content or embed it on external sites.

Check out the full post for information about how to participate in the next rounds of assessment.

Reinvigorating citizens in Scotland
Navraj Singh Ghaleigh, a lecturer in public law at the University of Edinburgh, writes about whether e-democracy is just the elixir Scotland needs to shake its citizens and institutions out of complacency. Several Web-based applications, including an online petitioning system, are emerging. Ghaleigh specifically notes the challenge in how to evaluate the success of these tools, particularly since they are largely used by a less-than-diverse group in Scotland. Read more about Ghaleigh’s concerns regarding these issues.

Appointing a cyber-security czar
Experts are recommending that the White House appoint a person to set policy for protecting both public- and private-sector computer networks. Presidential advisors differ on the structure and reporting responsibility for this position. The Washington Post has coverage and related information, including audio regarding the issue.

Finding its vision
Eric Sutherland writes on the Towing Path blog about how the lack of a vision for e-democracy in the United Kingdom has delayed a goal to create a more active citizenry. The criticism he levels is a traditional concern in communication – it’s not the method (in this case technology) that is the stumblingblock. It’s the need to create places for online consultation. The other issue he raises is assuring that a diverse group of citizens are able to participate via online methods.

Ultimately, he recommends focusing on efforts to provide citizens a place to influence decisions. He also reminds leaders to not get lost in the process and focus on these goals.   

More Obama Administration
Lots of chatter this month on how the Obama Administration is using the Web and social media. A few items of note:

Apps for Democracy
The Washington, D.C.-based Apps for Democracy have a collection of 47 Web, iPhone and Facebook applications for various democracy-related pursuits. The community edition highlights these items to gather input and potentially address community issues via these technology platforms.

Beware the Twitter bandwagon
Many social media commentators have warned against viewing social media as tools of revolution – rather, these tools have created new opportunities to communicate, organize, and participate. While social media tools are undoubtedly powerful, there is some wisdom in assuring relevant context for that power.

Take the recent elections in Moldavia and reports that Twitter was used to organize a large protest. However, the true impact was called into question when sources revealed that cell phone service was limited in the protest area.

Further reports suggest it was a broader organizational effort – no doubt a range of social media and Internet-based tools were involved.

The good news is that people are turning to these tools for civic organization. The important message here is to remember that it doesn’t matter whether Twitter did it all. That any of these tools are bringing folks together around a cause is significant.

Read more on Daniel Bennett’s blog. 



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