Ronda Hauben on Sat, 10 Jun 2000 03:32:28 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> E-government or creating a public sphere

Norman Solomon, in an article "E-Government": Point-and-Click Democracy?

>In a country such as Singapore or Egypt, the e-government pretensions are
>likely to be transparent. In the United States, the pronouncements of
>politicians and media commentators are apt to encounter credulous
>enthusiasm when we confuse convenience with democracy -- and technical
>advances with civic ones.

It is appropriate to be critical of Al Gore's claims to 
being a founding father of a new form of democracy that he calls
e-government, just as he is promoting the privatizing of the 
Internet's infrastructure out of the public hands and into the 
hands of the vested interests. Also it is important to remember that
his slogan for internet development is "the private sector will lead."

We have seen where they have led Internet development since 1995.

In the US this has meant millions for speculation, and 
poor people taxed on their phone bills to pay for minimal internet 
access for schools.

But that's somehow secondary to the fact that the concept of 
"Netizen" as someone who is a new form of networking citizen and 
one who does what they can to make it possible for the Internet
to grow and flourish, that this concept grew up and spread round
the world in opposition to the Gore concept of "the private sector
will lead".
So while it is appropriate to question what Gore is planning for
the world with his calls for e-government, it isn't appropriate
to question what will be the response of Netizens both in the US 
and around the world to the lack of understanding by Gore and 
other government officials of the nature and power for democracy 
of the Internet.

US industry advisors to government try to keep government officials 
ignorant of the nature of the Internet and of the science that has made
it possible to create the Internet.

And the US press for the most part goes along with this effort.

The challenge is to have a public discussion online and off
of what is needed for the kind of increased democracy that the 
Internet makes possible.

In "Netizen: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet" 
we begin this process.

Also it is important that people online who care about the 
Internet and about democratic processes take on to challenge 
the Gore program of "the private sector leads" in Internet
development. If the Clinton administration succeeds in giving 
the infrastructure of the Internet to the private sector, what 
public resources will they try to give to the private sector next?

The Internet was developed by science and science supported by  
government (or as part of government), and science needs to lead the 

This is the real challenge that Gore and other public officials
should be considering and learning about.

We need a scientific institution within the US government like
the Information Processing Techniques Office which made it possible
to create the Internet. We need a scientific institution inside
the US government to protect the infrastructure of the US portion
of the Internet from vested interests and which would give leadership
and support for the needed scaling of the Internet.

This is the challenge for Gore and by taking on this challenge he
would be in a position to give advice to other countries about
how to protect and scale the infrastructure of the Internet in their

The creation by the US Clinton administration of ICANN is contrary
to US law as it is putting public functions in private hands.

This gives a hint at what kind of e-government that vested interests 
are pressuring Gore to provide for them.

And this presents a challenge to the US government to understand
why the U.S. government-corporate control act to stem abuses that come
from putting government functions into unaccountable private sector 
ownership and control is a law that should be followed and ICANN
should be acknowledged as an illegal entity under that law.

The Internet presents important challenges for government officials,
and they need a vibrant public discussion to begin to recognize
what these challenges are.

It is good to see that such discussion is beginning.


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