Tracking the state: could civic-driven transparency reverse a historical trend?

Christiana Maria Mauro

26 Apr 2017, 12:15 p.m.
Main Plenary (Sala Verde)

The non-implementation of transparency obligations represents the greatest challenge to government watchdogs. But just as digital media's long tail business model is putting an end to the conditions that have allowed mass culture to exist for the past 200 years, the same statistical logic could undermine entrenched institutional practices and ultimately contribute to policy shaping in the public interest.

The executive powers of the state have historically enabled it to control the degree to which the individual is legible; today, cyber networks and cable tapping have even given states the opportunity to learn private and privileged information about individuals in societies outside their territorial boundaries.

While Freedom of Information laws are often ineffective because they rely so heavily on cooperation, the digitisation of public records, encryption technology, and cheap technological infrastructure have made it somewhat easier to shed light on the unconstitutional activities that governments would be disinclined to make known. Through initiatives such as GlobaLeaks, corruption mapping, and other crowd-sourced resistance activities, a number of initiatives have led to unexpected policy changes; the right tools and the efforts of civic-minded individuals have defeated some of the institutional conditions that enable state actors to frustrate bottom-up reform. In this way, online cooperation between entities engaged in civic activism is transforming the orientation of customary surveillance and "behavioural tracking" practices.

This paper looks at the budding phenomenon of involuntary government transparency, offering examples of positive policy resolutions that have resulted directly from civil disobedience; it also examines state transparency within a historical framework.