Michael Gurstein on Tue, 15 Sep 2015 09:29:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> A Canadian Election Programme for Digital Citizenship and Social Equity


A Canadian Election Programme for Digital Citizenship and Social Equity 

The Internet and digital technologies have gone from exotic to commonplace
in the blink of an eye. The Internet and digital technologies now provide
the platform for much of the world?s economic, social, cultural and
political activities.

The resulting transformations in the way we conventionally do things
presents enormous risks as well as benefits?accelerating economic
inequalities which appear to have partial roots in digital technology; the
rise of digital surveillance and the ?surveillance State?; the
vulnerabilities built into remotely managed and controlled digital systems
putting individuals and communities at continuing risk of catastrophic
failures; all of this alongside unprecedented opportunities for increasing
efficiencies in and universalizing access to information and to the means of
production and distribution. and thus for realizing broadly based social

At the heart of these developments and their risks is the inability of
current systems of public accountability to allow citizens to determine the
broad directions for their communities and their own rights and
responsibilities in a digital age. Existing forms of democratic control and
citizenship do not seem adequate to the task.

Rather there appears to be the need for a new form of citizenship, one which
can renew the accountability of institutions of governance, of assigning the
rights and responsibilities of individuals and communities in the context of
this digital transformation?a form of digitally enabled citizenship adequate
to the digital age?a ?digital citizenship? for short.

It is thus surprising how little attention has been paid to the Internet and
the digital in Canada?s current election campaign. The only mention to date
has been the Conservative?s dusting off previous funding commitments for
broadband for rural and remote areas. The only extensive outside
election-focused discussion of Internet based issues and policies is the
useful but limited contribution from OpenMedia.ca.

In the following I want to lay out what hopefully may function as an initial
program towards a ?digital citizenship? ? a form of digitally enabled and
enhanced citizenship for the Internet age; and one which takes as its basic
assumption the Internet?s transformational risks and opportunities. This is
presented in the form of an election ?platform? ? a set of principles and
policies which gives citizens a choice as to directions they may wish to

1. Inclusive openness?openness of systems, institutions, information along
with the attendant processes and supports for broad-based inclusive
participation; and inclusiveness in participation and control over systems
and institutions enabled by information openness to achieve the maximum of
2. Decentralized and distributed control towards the local and the
community-based with means provided to support such initiatives;
3. Internet and the digital as a supporting and equalizing ?playing field?
on which various social, political, economic and cultural activities can
take place, both in collaborative and competitive modes;
4. Social and economic equity as ultimate goals for system enhancement and

Towards a program for universal Canadian Digital Citizenship
1. Fundamental to achieving digital citizenship is access to the opportunity
and means to use digital technologies?a commitment to ensuring the
opportunity for full Internet access and use to all Canadians. There are now
multiple means for delivering the Internet under the widest variety of
physical and geographic conditions. There thus must be a formal commitment
to ensuring for all Canadians a level of Internet access sufficient to
ensure that the user can be a fully active citizen in the digital age. Such
a commitment needs to include not simply physical access to the systems/the
Internet but also the range of education, training, linguistic, disability
and other supports required to ensure the opportunity for the effective use
of the Internet and digital systems for the full range of activities which
constitute active and effective digital citizenship.

2. Among the most significant strategies for providing high speed low cost
access at the local level particularly in smaller and more remote
communities is through community based initiatives in the self provision of
broadband Internet access. Such initiatives should be encouraged and
supported and recognized as a desirable option among the range of Internet
delivery options.

3. Associated with this is the need to ensure that those who are the least
able to undertake effective digital citizenship have access to facilities ?
Community Access and Innovation Hubs (CAIHs) where the devices, training and
supports required for for digital citizenship are made locally available.
The development of these facilities as technology access, training and
community innovation and makerspace centres would be fundamental to
universalizing digital citizenship in Canada. The network of these centres,
in many locations in cooperation with local schools and post-secondary
education facilities, would provide an important source of community
innovation, a site for community based digital training and upgrading, and a
training ground for student interns as support workers among others.

4. The Canadian telecommunications policy and regulatory environment needs
clear direction away from corporate control of the fundamental elements of
the Internet delivery system which is fundamental to the the effective
exercise of digital citizenship and a digitally enhanced democracy. It is
important that such notions as ?net neutrality?; restrictions on cross media
and more recently platform ownership and vertical integration; the need for
diversity of content and local content requirements, become enacted in law
and become the direction for regulatory interventions by the CRTC.

5. Canada?s small and medium sized business sector has been one of the
slowest sectors (including among its peers in other OECD countries) in
adopting and making effective use of digital technologies. The CAIH would
act as a trainer, enabler and support for SME?s at the local level to get on
board with digital technologies and provide the means through which the
variety of supports currently available for digitally-enabled small business
(including e and mCommerce) could be provided in an adapted and user
appropriate form at the local level. This would be of particular benefit in
rural, marginalized and more remote parts of Canada where such services and
supports are not currently available and would bring the economic benefits
of digital citizenship directly into all Canadian communities.

6. A key element in creating digital citizenship would be a national program
of training in digital citizenship in the public schools through enhanced
programs in digital literacy, teaching students how to use computing and the
Internet to accomplish the range of their daily tasks and as well teaching
them of the various risks involved in such use.

7. Canada?s Medicare program is a key component of Canadian citizenship. A
national community-based digitally-enabled health and wellness program would
go some way to providing support for primary health care particularly in
rural and remote regions and among marginalized populations in urban areas

8. This national digital health and wellness program would have a particular
focus on rethinking and re-planning health and wellness for our ageing
population including how the variety of community and family focused
Internet enabled technologies can support initiatives for the elderly and
the provision of appropriate home care and associated support services. The
training and support for this new program could be conducted through the
CITH with close liaison with existing healthcare facilities.

9. Our institutions for the support of democratic governance have not
evolved with the of digital technologies and the Internet. This is in part a
cause of the ?democratic deficit?. A national Internet based initiative is
proposed to rethink and restructure democratic participation in governance
including through the extension of Open Government information/data programs
and as well a re-examination of the role and functioning of democratic
representation in the age of digital citizenship. This would include an
examination of how peer to peer processes could most effectively be included
to enable enhanced digital citizen participation in policy development,
policy analysis and policy evaluation.

10. Canada?s role in the rapidly evolving global Internet Governance ecology
has atrophied dramatically in recent years. There is a need for a
reformulation of Canada?s role and interventions in global Internet
governance processes based on notions of national and global digital
citizenship and social equity and including a belief in the need for an
equitable distribution of the economic and other benefits of Internet
technology and Internet commerce.

11. Privacy and surveillance have emerged as among the most significant
policy issues of the digital age. Once Bill C: 51 has been abolished, there
will be the need for a broad based Task Force review including the use of
open participation processes for obtaining the knowledge and experience of
experts and citizens on the appropriate balance between the need for privacy
and the need for information access on the part of public authorities and
the desire for access on the part of commercial entities.

12. Canadian technical assistance has been adrift for years. Programs to
extend and enable digital citizenship globally with overseas partners could
revitalize these activities and provide an important mission for Canada?s
technical assistance contributions.

13. Canadian First Nations and indigenous peoples can gain immensely through
full digital citizenship. Extra-ordinary efforts must be made to extend the
opportunities for in the first instance Internet access and through this
full digital citizenship to First nations and indigenous peoples building on
existing successful models from indigenous communities.

14. It is being observed that the opportunities being presented by digital
technologies are being differentially utilized by men and women.
Extra-ordinary efforts are needed particularly in the primary and secondary
school levels to ensure through training, mentoring, applied education that
women and girls are equal Canadian digital citizens.

15. A small number of global Internet platforms are emerging as dominant
even monopolistic, in the global Internet environment?Google, Amazon,
Facebook and a small number of others. These platforms have enormous
economic, social and cultural power and it is necessary to ensure that this
power is not being used to in ways which materially impact on the rights and
responsibilities of Canadian digital citizens. It is thus necessary to
review Canada?s positions with respect to the range of emerging global
Internet platforms to develop appropriate policy frameworks including in
privacy, equitable tax distribution, ensuring of net neutrality both at the
technical and at the content levels and as well to explore the existence of
and support for local platforms for anchoring digital social, economic and
cultural activity at the local, regional and national levels.

16. The Internet as the emerging social and cultural platform provides the
opportunity either to enhance or suppress the range of languages. Efforts
must be made to identify appropriate ways to enhance the opportunities for
multiple languages and particularly for languages as the wellspring of local
culture and identity to flourish in the digital environment.

Canadian policies and programs in the Internet and digital areas have for
years been fragmented and without clear direction or priorities. The current
Canadian government while promising a Digital Development Plan over several
years in the end only produced a ?talking points? document, ignoring issues
of equity and distributed development while re-hashing long standing
programs and commitments. The digital age deserves much better.

What is being proposed in the above is only the beginnings of an approach to
the kind of comprehensive adaptation and development which will be necessary
to ensure full digital citizenship for all Canadians and which ensures that
Canada and all Canadians are fully benefiting from digital technologies
while minimizing the associated risks. The above does not even attempt to
address the very real risks of large scale under and unemployment which are
emerging from ?smart technologies?, Artificial Intelligence and robotics for

What is needed at the core of the Canadian government is an agency empowered
to act in a comprehensive and integrative manner across departments and
agencies to facilitate the adaptations and change required. Equally it is
necessary that such an agency fully integrate into its operations the
opportunities for the broadest base of participation by the public, local
communities and the various technical and commercial stakeholders in the
digital ecology. Finding ways of facilitating effective and inclusive
participation in the policy and programme development activities of this
Digital Development agencies may just be one of the most important and far
reaching tasks that is to be accomplished.

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