IT technology is infiltrating almost every area in our society, but there is one front where the progress is notably slow. Democracy. Why?
We still use representative democracy and elect politicians for several years at a time. This is largely done using pen and paper and the votes are counted manually. Processing the votes seems like a task well suited for computers. And why do we even need to elect representatives when we could vote directly over the net in the big and important questions? Representative democracy was after all invented thousands of years ago when people had to gather physically to hold a meeting. Then it made sense to send someone to represent a group of people, but now we could involve a whole nation directly using the net. So what’s stopping us from doing that?
Let’s first look at IT as an aid in representative democracy. First, voting machines have already been used for a long time in some countries, including the US. But there have been many controversies and elections have even been declared invalid by court (link in Finnish) due to problems in electronic handling of votes.
Handling an election seems like a straightforward IT problem, but it really isn’t. Let’s keep in mind the fundamental requirements for an election: 1. The identity of voters and their right to vote must be verified. 2. It must be ensured that no one votes more than once. 3. It shall not be possible to determine how a person has voted. 4. The integrity of the result must be verifiable. The big problem is that these requirements conflicts with each other. You must know the person who votes but still store the data in a way that makes it possible to verify the result but not identify the voter. This leads to complex designs involving cryptography. It’s no doubt possible to develop systems that fulfill these needs. The hard part is to verify the systems thoroughly enough to make sure they really work.
And here psychology enters the scene. We all know pens and paper well and we have learned to trust the traditional election system. There is a fairly large number of unclear votes in every election and we have accepted that as a fact. But people are a lot more suspicious against computerized systems. Most of us lack the ability to understand how electronic voting works. And the requirements described above causes complexity that makes it hard even for many professionals. Only crypto experts have the true ability to audit it. This makes it hard to build a chain of trust between ordinary people and the voting system.
Is our suspicious attitude justified? Yes and no. We should be suspicious against complex electronic systems and put them through thorough scrutiny before using them in elections. We must demand that their design is open and audited by independent experts. But we are at the same time forgetting the fact that traditional security measures are far from perfect. Written signatures is a very weak method to prove identity and a photo ID is not much better. A nice example is a friend of mine who keeps using an expired ID card just to test the system. The card is his own and he still looks like the picture. The only problem is that the card expired 11 years ago. During these years the card has only been rejected once! It has been used several times when voting in elections. Needless to say, an electronic signature would not pass even once. Despite this, people typically trust written signatures and ID cards a lot more than computerized security measures. The same attitude is visible when discussing electronic voting.
Another real reason to be suspicious against electronic voting is the computers’ ability to process massive amounts of data very quickly. There are always minor errors in the traditional voting systems, but massive manipulation of the result is hard. In a computerized system, on the other hand, even a fairly small glitch may enable someone to make a big impact on the result.
The other side of the coin is the question if we need representative democracy at all anymore. Should we have net polls about the important questions instead? Well, representative democracy has an important benefit, continuity. The same people are given at least some time to achieve results before people can decide if they should continue. But a four to six year term is really too short to change the big things and our politicians tend to focus on smaller and easier issues. Imagine how it would be if the people had a more direct say in decision making? That could lead to an even bigger lack of focus and strategic direction. Probably not a good idea after all.
But representative democracy can be complemented instead of replaced. Crowd sourcing is one area that is taking off. A lot of things can be crowd sourced and legislative proposals is one of them. Many countries already have a Constitution that allows ordinary citizens to prepare proposals and force the parliament to vote on them, if enough people support the proposal. Here in Finland a crowd sourced copyright act proposal made headlines globally when it recently passed the 50 000 supporter threshold (1,2 % of the voting population). This is an excellent example of how modern Internet-based schemes can complement the representative democracy. Finland’s current copyright legislation is almost 10 years old and is heavily influenced by entertainment industry lobbyists. It was written during a time when most ordinary people had no clue about copyright issues, and the politicians knew even less. For example, most ordinary people probably thinks that downloading a song illegally from the net is less severe than selling a truckload of false CDs. Our current copyright law disagrees.
Issues like this can easily become a politically hot potato that no one want to touch. Here the crowd sourced initiatives comes in really handy. Other examples of popular initiatives in Finland are a demand for equal rights for same-sex couples and making a minority language optional in the schools. Even Edward Snowden has inspired a proposal: It should be possible to apply for political asylum remotely, without visiting the target country. Another issue is however that these initiatives need to pass the parliament to become laws. The representative democracy will still get the final word. Even popular crowd sourced initiatives may be dismissed, but they are still not in vain. Every method to bring in more feedback to the decision makers during their term in office is good and helps mitigate the problems with indirect democracy.
So what will our democracy look like in ten or twenty years? Here’s my guess. We still have representative democracy. Electronic voting machines takes care of most of the load, but we may still have traditional voting on paper available as an alternative. Well, some countries rely heavily on voting machines already today. The electronic machines are accepted as the norm even if some failures do occur. Voting over Internet will certainly be available in many countries, and is actually already in use in Estonia. Direct ways to affect the political system, like legislative proposals, will be developed and play a more important role. And last but not least. Internet has already become a very powerful tool for improving the transparency of our legislative institutions and to provide feedback from voters. This trend will continue and actually make the representative democracy blend into some kind of hybrid democracy. The representatives do in theory have carte blance to rule, but they also need to constantly mind their public reputation. This means that you get some extra power to affect the legislative institutions if you participate in the monitoring and express your opinion constantly, rather than just cast a vote every 4th year.
Malware is an omniscient threat – it’s present even when people don’t realize it. Understanding the threat is a key component of protecting yourself and your devices, and nothing drives that point home like cold hard facts and comprehensive research. F-Secure just released its latest Threat Report, which provides important insights into contemporary digital threats. The report details the various changes and trends in the digital threat landscape using data collected during the 2nd half of 2014. The threat report is full of important information, and it’s worth checking out to get some ideas about what attackers are cooking up. Trends like social media malware, exploits, and ransomware are detailed in the report. But there’s tons of important information people should be aware of, and so we put together an infographic to give you a quick overview of the report. The report provides lots more information about the threats, incidents, and trends that were prominent in the latter half of 2014. There's also some insightful words penned by F-Secure security researchers to give you a little context about why you need to arm yourself with knowledge to defend yourself against digital threats. You can download the full threat report for free from F-Secure’s website.
When an enigmatic and groundbreaking artist started making waves on Youtube, the public was simultaneously curious and in awe of this new type of sonic assault, detached from any specific genre, culture or style. nano draws on life experience accumulated in NYC and Japan to create a truly global aesthetic. nano’s music transcends the confines of nationalities and ethnicities, and reflects nano’s “no national borders” motto. Despite being the product of a united and connected world, nano chooses to be shrouded with a veil of mystery and privacy. Like we here at Freedome, nano believes that personal privacy is a choice and the only person to control it should be YOU YOURSELF. We created Freedome because we LOVE the digital and connected world we all live in. We love it so much, that we want to give everyone the tools to enjoy it to the max by not having to worry about the negative sides that come with it. It’s all about choice and keeping control. A lot of your personal information is shared without your approval, and we should be able to share everything you want without fear of your stuff being stolen or used against you. Just like nano, we think that sharing your passions and keeping your privacy are not mutually exclusive. To celebrate our mutual love for privacy and a connected world, nano has teamed up with Freedome with a special exclusive song, which can be found here. Join our global troop of digital freedom fighters. Your privacy, your choice.
In the United States, Australia and Canada, April 23 will be Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day. But given our changing economy and workplace, is one day enough to improve the bonds between parent and child? Originally created to give girls a chance to "shadow" their parents in the workplaces women have so often been excluded from, Take Your Kid to Work Day, as it's often called, was expanded in 2003 to include boys as a way to help all kids see "the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life." It's a nice ideal, but it isn't much of a reality, at least in many industrial countries. Americans spend an average of 1,788 hours a year at work. Most parents with full-time jobs will spend almost two-thirds of their day working and sleeping, leaving little time for anything else. Hopefully your country is a little better at balancing work/home. Finnish workers, for instance, spent 1,666 hours on average at work in 2013 that's 122 hours or 3 full weeks less than their American counterparts. Don't be jealous: German workers only averaged 1,388 hours at work in 2013. Chances are wherever you live your kids already see you at work. A 2012 survey found that 60 percent of Americans are email accessible for 13.5 hours a weekday with an extra 5 hours on the weekend. Given the extraordinary demands work makes on us, perhaps you can make a demand on your work to be a bit more flexible. Given that we're nearly always accessible, why can't parents plan around their kids' schedules and get some work done? Activities like sports, dance, karate and other arts offer parents a chance to be an active observer of their kids while getting some work done on a mobile PC or device while their children are being supervised by another adult. Given that 70 percent of millennial use their own devices for work, it's likely that younger parents already do this to some degree on their phones and tablets. But they're likely not thinking about potential data leakage that can occur, especially when using public Wi-Fi built on old technology that could expose your identity and possibly even your email. But with security and a virtual personal network -- like our Freedome VPN -- you can be about as secure in the office as you're out in the world seeing how your kids work, as they get another chance to see you. Cheers, Sandra [Image by Wesley Fryer | Flickr]