Thursday, October 22, 2009

Real News about Government 2.0

Who cares if you friend Obama on Facebook? What does it matter if you follow the State Department on Twitter? How does watching the Secretary of Health on YouTube actually change your relationship with the government? How does adding another customer for a social network site do anything but build up corporate databases of user preferences? These are often the questions that I cynically ask about Web 2.0 technologies used by government agencies.

Instead, we could perhaps ask different kinds of questions about political participation and the regulation of commonly held files and networks. What form would Government 2.0 have to take to really change the relationship between direct and representational democracy? What resources for the public good do computational media create and challenge?

There are two stories from the week that point to ways that technology may actually be relevant to the political process. One case might be taken to be a cautionary tale, since distrust of electronic voting machines runs high, even though computational media may ultimately make citizen participation possible in the deliberative process of government.

This week there has been another leak of source-code from a the operating systems of voting machines from the Sequoia corporation. Those who are raising questions about this particular proprietary technology have created a wiki about the issues. Obviously suspicion of this particular technology runs deep enough that the video below suggests that electronic voting machines might just put one of their own into office.

The other big e-government news this week has to do with a much less controversial story: the allocation of computer IP addresses. After listening to a talk about IPv4 scarcity, this story about the implementation of the IPv6 system is actually something about which I can now hold a political opinion. The question is how to make this kind of an issue about the distribution of and access to critical technological resources as urgent -- although hopefully not as open to panic, satire, and conspiracy thinking -- as something actually covered in the mass media like electronic voting.

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Blogger Jardinero1 said...

You want to ask different questions about political participation and regulation, yet there seems to be an underlying assumption that direct participation and/or direct democracy are inherently good? Is that necessarily so? Also, shouldn't one ask the question; why is regulation, i.e. government regulation, required in the first place?

As I read your post and the linked article I wondered: Are technical standards for moving from a 32 bit address system to a 128 bit address system necessarily political? Why is the US gov't, creating a subset of standards that vendors have to comply with. What's wrong with the original standards in the first place? The article states: "The test program is intended to create an open, flexible testing infrastructure that leverages existing industry efforts while protecting early investments in IPv6 technologies by agencies." Isn't that what The Internet Engineering Task Force is working on already? I am not so sure that is really the intent of the program. What happens when every government sets a different set of substandards? It's not that I am opposed to competing standards. But you can't opt out of government standards.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

Unfortunately, we are running out of IP addresses in the IPv4 system, which only accommodates about four and a half billion devices. (In my home with my family of four, we have probably a dozen devices with an IP address, and that's before I even drive to work.) As the talk I attended explained, such addresses are now becoming a scarce resource, which have been traditionally handed out in large blocks to U.S. research universities and corporations with a lot of government contracts. (Halliburton got one of the last big blocks.) And switching to accommodate emerging players isn't as technically or politically easy as it sounds, since those with big blocks need to go along with the move.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Jardinero1 said...

I understand the mechanics and the why. My concern is to the why the gov't is creating a subset of standards to the IETF's work. The IETF's concern is for all users. The US government's concern is for one user only: itself.

2:38 PM  

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