Today, I arrived in a rainy Vilnius, just a bit sunnier than rainy Berlin, where I left early this morning. I’ll be participating in a session on Internet Governance and the Wider World at the Internet Governance Forum.
So far, together with many people around me, have probably seen the Internet as a given. I haven’t really thought about what internet policy and governance means for reducing corruption, and the work of the organisation I work for, Transparency International.
Let’s take this opportunity to think about it for a moment. These are really just a first take on the issues at hand, so I’d very welcome your thoughts (and resources) on this:
First, the key concept of transparency – fundamental for the governance of any organisation – comes into mind. It is elementary that accountability relationships and decisions structures are transparent. Participation is very closely linked to transparent and accountable governance.
Transparency, as often discussed on this blog, has proven to be very powerful anti-corruption tool. It reduces the opportunities for corruption. Information, such as government information becomes available to citizens who on this basis are empowered to monitor what their elected leaders are doing all day long, and hold them accountable. The development of the Internet has been a key driver in this change.
The Internet: more than a central library. A place for action.
Thinking of the most relevant internet’s services and issues arising out of them, when looking at the needs of the fight against corruption, I’d like to start by listing the following:
Reliability: The reliability of the service is crucial to depend on the Internet as a tool, not only as a space to share information and entertainment, but even more so when looking at its potential to serve as a working and decision making environment for governments and businesses.
Security: The issue of security refers to both the information being provided, as well as the users that navigate the Internet. Aren’t we all too familiar with viruses, spam, and un-welcome programmes that find a warm new home on our computer?
Independence, openness and access to information: An independent Internet is needed especially when being faced with issues of censorship and arbitrary access to information. Too often, corrupt activities are hidden away from the eyes of the public already, when sites are being blocked. Participation, as mentioned above, requires citizens to be able to access an open and neutral space to access information. Governments are increasingly building walls, as the Economist wrote last week, to control what their citizens can read.
Privacy, Confidentiality, Anonymity: Providing your personal details on Facebook is one thing. Every one can decide how much to share. Through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres in over 50 countries around the world however, Transparency International is increasingly working with citizens who have experienced bribery themselves, who are witnesses of corrupt behaviour. Bribery, even when forced to in order to survive or access an elementary service, is illegal in most countries. For these whistle blowers to come forward, issues of privacy and anonymity are of utmost importance. Sometimes it even affects their lives, as violent action has shown in cases when corrupt interests have been touched. Some of chapters know very well that some of their email correspondence is being read by the government.
Whistleblowing can be a powerful tool to combat corruption that has occurred in a company or the government. The web service Wikileaks for example is such a platform that provides exactly this: an anonymous space for whistle blowers to share information they think should be public. Yet, it relies on a complicated structure to ensure this works relying on the leadership of some governments such as Sweden and recently Island, that have moved forward with developing very strong legislation to incentive such tools.
To summarise these thoughts, let me express it like this:
The Internet should to empower citizens to demand a more transparent, accountable and finally better government.
We have to make sure they don’t pay for it because they are using the Internet to do so.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Where do you see internet governance becoming relevant for fighting corruption? Which are the most crucial services the Internet needs to provide, to ensure, for people to use it to their most?