Sunday, 20 February 2011

Benefits and disadvantages

Information and communications technologies are neither democratic nor undemocratic; they are merely means to an end and not normative by their nature. They are tools that may be deployed to achieve certain goals (e.g., contradictory goals, such as coercive control or participation can be fostered by digital technology). However, certain institutional framework conditions may either support or hamper the use of electronic means for the benefit of democratic processes. Risks and opportunities of the digitization of democratic processes depends therefore to a large extent upon the particular institutional framework conditions of the chosen democratic model (which is mainly set out in the Constitution, including the type of the underlying social contract, specific aspects of the rule of law, representative democracy or direct democracy, etc.).[23]
Benefits

Contemporary technologies, such as electronic mailing lists, peer-to-peer networks, collaborative software, wikis, Internet forums and blogs, are clues to and early potential solutions for some aspects of e-democracy.

A number of non-governmental sites have developed cross-jurisdiction, customer-focused applications that extract information from thousands of governmental organizations into a system that brings consistency to data across many dissimilar providers. It is convenient and cost-effective for businesses, and the public benefits by getting easy access to the most current information available without having to expend tax dollars to get it. One example of this is transparent.gov.com, a free resource for citizens to quickly identify the various open government initiatives taking place in their community or in communities across the country.

Another valuable source is USA.gov — the official site of the United States government. The website is directly linked to every federal and state agency. The information provided by the website is valuable to all citizens, and non-citizens, of the current news and regulations of the U.S. government. These are just some examples of e-government's[24] influence in the Internet.

E-democracy leads to a more simplified process and access to government information for public-sector agencies and citizens. For example, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles simplified the process of certifying driver records to be admitted in county court proceedings. Indiana became the first state to allow government records to be digitally signed, legally certified and delivered electronically by using Electronic Postmark technology.[25] In addition to its simplicity, e-democracy services can reduce costs. The Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, Wal-Mart and NIC developed an online hunting and fishing license service utilizing an existing computer to automate the licensing process. More than 140,000 licenses were purchased at Wal-Mart stores during the first hunting season, and the agency estimates it will save $200,000 annually from service.[26]

Electronic democracy can also carry the benefit of reaching out to youth as a mechanism to increase youth voter turnout in elections and raising awareness amongst youth. With the consistent decline of voter turnout, e-democracy and electronic voting mechanisms can help revert that trend. Youth, in particular, have seen a significant drop in turnout in most industrialized nations, including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The use of electronic political participation mechanisms may appear more familiar to youth and, as a result, garner more participation by youths who would otherwise find it inconvenient to vote using the more traditional methods. Electronic democracy can help improve democratic participation, reduce civic illiteracy and voter apathy and become a useful asset for political discussion, education, debate and participation.[27]
Disadvantages

Equally, these technologies are bellwethers of some of the issues associated with the territory, such as the inability to sustain new initiatives or protect against identity theft, information overload and vandalism.

Some traditional objections to direct democracy are argued to apply to e-democracy, such as the potential for governance to tend towards populism and demagoguery. More practical objections exist, not least in terms of the digital divide between those with access to the media of e-democracy (mobile phones and Internet connections) and those without, as well as the opportunity cost of expenditure on e-democracy innovations.

Furthermore, there are still those who are skeptical to the amount of impact that they can make through online participation.[28] Although the government projects supply information, IT illiteracy and the digital divide are grounds to discourage participation. The political advances on the Internet can potentially dishearten non-users to adapt the new technologies.

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