Citizen Scholar? In Search of a True Democracy of Knowledge in the ICT-Based Global Society

AUTHOR
Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska

ABSTRACT

The subject

The subject of this paper is the problem of knowledge in relation to the idea of democracy. Democracy is understood here mainly in its basic form, i.e, as „government by the people” and „a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1996) An assumption is made that democracy is the best (especially from an ethical point of view) of all forms of organization of human societies known to humankind thus far. In the context of this paper, the relationship between knowledge and democracy in the ICT-driven global society is of special importance. The definition of knowledge accepted in this paper is that it is a „justified and true belief.” (Quinton, 1972)
The premise

Democracy, both as a theoretical concept and in its practical function, progressed since the end of the 18th Century in the area of politics and in many other areas of public life worldwide. This progress accelerated in recent years due largely to the wide-spread use of advanced Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), which serve as news-, information-, and opinion-sharing devices. The newly coined term ‘citizen journalist,’ already widely used in everyday language, captures this phenomenon very well. Some of the most spectacular examples of the development in question can be also found, for instance, in Barack Obama’s election campaign. This campaign is generally regarded as a case of ‘democracy at work’ – mainly because of the immense role ICT played in the successful grass-roots movement initiated by citizens supporting Barack Obama during his bid for the Presidency of the United States. ICT also served as a very efficient medium in a two-way communication between the Candidate and his electorate; a practice President Obama promised to continue.

However, a similar development of democracy cannot be observed in institutionalized structures involving the processes of production (creation), storage (preservation) and distribution (dissemination) of knowledge, despite the very similar beginnings of both, political democracy and the democracy of knowledge. Just like the modern idea of democracy, so too the modern structure and organization of institutions in which the processes of production, storage, and distribution of knowledge take place are the offsprings of the Scientific Revolution which started in Europe in the 16th Century. Indeed, these institutions very often fulfill their functions in support (or at least in acceptance) of the principles of democracy applied to political life. Many – for instance, some universities, research centers, etc. – were created with this particular mission in mind. Yet, while the political democracy developed progressively over time the progress in the area of democracy of knowledge seems by comparison significantly slower or even arrested.
The main thesis

The main thesis of this paper is that today ICT serves as an instrument of global democratization of all three above-mentioned knowledge related processes: production, storage, and distribution. It happens first and foremost because present-day ICT makes access to knowledge much easier and much faster than was possible in the past. Moreover, a much larger number of individuals than in the past has today access to all kinds of knowledge tahnks to ICT. After a long period of near stagnation, the process of democratization of knowldge takes place in a way similar to that which is noticable in political democracy and in many other areas of public life. In particular, the progressing ICT-enhanced democratization of knowledge shares many similarities with the evolution of democracy which took place throughout the 20th Century and in the first decade of the 21st Century in politics and in many public institutions and structures worldwide.

The arguments

To support the thesis of this paper and to illustrate my point, I will rely mainly on two well known phenomena. One of them is the historic development of the idea of democracy and its ‘practial application’ to the public sphere. I will compare this development with the historic development of the idea of knowledge in a democratic society and its ‘practical application,’ in the knowledge-related institutions and organizations.

The second phenomenon is one of the most prominent problems debated in relation to ICT. Namely, it is the existing dychotomy in the approach to the issue of the ownership of knowledge. This dychotomy is most prominently reflected in the controversy between the supporters of intellectual property rights on the one hand and the supporters of knowledge sharing on the other hand. I will examine this controversy in the context of the idea of democracy as well as from the point of view of flourishing ethics (Bynum, 2006) and flourishing human society. I will focus on the process of production, storage and distribution of knowledge taking place in institutionalized formal structures such as universities versus the same processes taking place informally between human individuals using ICT. I will argue that the latter spur the emergence of a ‘citizen scholar.’ Thus, they contribute to the flourishing of the (global) human society organized on the principle of democracy.

The conclusion

The paper’s conclusion will be devoted primarily to the problem of social implication of the emergence of a ‘citizen scholar’ resulting from the progressing democratization of the ICT-driven global society, and from the democratization of knowledge. The value of the activities of ‘citizen scholars’ will be measured by the quality of their contribution to the flourishing of the global society. The flourishing society is regarded here as an ethical and social ideal.

REFERENCES

Bynum, T.W. (2006), Flourishing ethics, Ethics and Information Technology, 8:4, 157-173.

Quinton, A. (1972), Knowledge and Belief, Edwards, P. (ed.in chief), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Macmillan Publishing & The Free Press, vol. 4, 345-352.

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (1996), Barnes & Noble Books.

The Right to Know V The Right to Privacy

AUTHOR
Paul Simpkins and Ibrahim Hasan

ABSTRACT

Historically

Many years ago Gorden Kaye, the actor, was in hospital recovering from serious head injuries. A reporter and photographer invaded the hospital room and took photographs of Mr. Kaye with arms and legs in traction and swathed in bandages. He went to court over a breach of his privacy but failed to persuade the judge he had such a right. In 1991 in the case of Kaye v Robertson it was established that there was no basic right in UK law to privacy.

The Court of Appeal said of this case “It is well known that in English law there is no right to privacy, and accordingly there is no right of action for breach of a person’s privacy. The facts of the present case are a graphic illustration of the desirability of Parliament considering whether and in what circumstances statutory provision can be made to protect the privacy of individuals”.

Lord Justice Bingham agreeing said “The case highlights, yet again, the failure of both the common law of England and statute to protect in an effective way the personal privacy of individual citizens”.

The Freedom of Information Act, maybe inadvertently, together resurrected the old arguments by allowing anyone or any company or any newspaper to ask for the personal data of any individual working in the public sector.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1st January 2000. It gives access to all recorded information held by public sector organisations. Where information about individuals is requested, it requires a consideration of the balance between the individual’s right to privacy with the public’s right to know. A number of recent decisions of the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Information Tribunal have shed light on how to achieve this balance.

Common requests include:

  • Salaries, expenses & retirement packages
  • Grievance and disciplinary records
  • Name and contact details of staff

This paper will examine all the latest decisions and attempt to find a common thread and issues for consideration when dealing with such requests.
Background

The Human Rights Act 1998 brought a variety of new rights to the British people. Key in this area was Article 8 which is generally considered the right to Privacy.

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life his home and his correspondence”

The right once conferred is instantly qualified by the following paragraph.

“There shall be no interference by a public authority except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the rights and freedoms of others”

Exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act

Section 40 concerns personal data within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998. Section 40 applies to two distinct types of requests for information:

  1. if a request asks for the personal data of the applicant himself, the information is exempt; and
  2. if a request asks for the personal data of someone else then that information will be exempt if its disclosure would contravene any of the data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (or certain other provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998).

Landmark cases

There are now in early 2008 many decisions publicly available for scrutiny from the regulator – the Information Commissioner. We will consider these in the final paper.

Signposts

From the decisions made by Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal so far, it seems that when faced with a request for personal information about third parties under Freedom of Information, public authorities must consider the following factors:

  • What is the role or capacity of the subject(s) of the request?
  • Is the information about their public life or their private life?
  • What is their reasonable expectation as to the way their information is going to be treated by the public authority?
  • What harm would be caused to them if the information was disclosed?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has led to a huge increase in requests for information about individuals. Many of these are really requests for subject access under the DPA. There is no blanket exemption for requests for third party personal information. Each request will have to be examined on its own merits and the provisions of the Act applied. Public sector employees and those whose personal information is held by public sector organisations can no longer expect total confidentiality. In certain circumstances their information will be disclosed to the outside world. This seems to be the price of freedom of information.

A Discipline in its Infancy

As Computer Use Grows, So Do Moral Issues
By Terrell Ward Bynum

This article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, on Tuesday, January 12, 1982.

A famous rock star has just died and millions of fans are grieving. The computer of a major novelty distributor is immediately put into action, for there is not a moment to lose if the grief is to be fully exploited. From data banks of ticket agencies, record distributors and other firms, the computer compiles names, addresses, purchasing histories and financial backgrounds of people who bought records and attended concerts of the fallen star. Within 48 hours of the tragedy, the novelty company begins computer-dialing phone numbers of thousands of grieving fans. Whenever someone answers, the computer plays excerpts of the dead star’s most emotional records along with a sales pitch for souvenir T-shirts and posters. Instantly, orders are taken and confirmation letters are printed. Within a week, more than a million fans have been reached, and factories have been notified of the number of items to produce. Is this imagined application of computers a smart, efficient business venture? Is it unfair exploitation of people caught in a weak moment? Is the gathering of information on people and the phoning of their homes an unethical invasion of their privacy or a new and commendable business strategy? Such questions and many harder ones are being raised and debated in “computer ethics,” a new field of growing concern to business and industry as well as to all of society.
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