Friday, December 15, 2017

Declaration of Independence for the Internet

Corporations of the Information Industries, you weary giants of silicon and cables, I am from the Internet where we belong to many countries and to no countries. On behalf of the future, I ask you to treat our communities with respect. Your financial values are not welcome among us. You have no voice where we gather.

We have no elected governance, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. We declare the Internet to be naturally independent of the monopolies you seek to impose. You have no moral right to control our information or our discourse.

We have previously declared our independence from government control. We now declare that corporations do not govern the Internet. We will not rest in protecting what we have created.

Governance derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. Your terms and conditions do not bind us. You do not know the richness and diversity of our world. Do not think that you can dominate it – you cannot. Our world has strength through diversity. We will resist homogenisation and colonisation of individuals, cultures and indigenous peoples. Surplus, not scarcity, will be the foundation for the Internet that we grow, using our collective actions.

You seek to control our great and gathering conversations, but  you have done nothing but plunder the wealth of our meeting places. You cannot accommodate our diversity, our desire to be both consumers and creators, or our instant sharing of information everywhere. We have created an uncaptureable Internet built on interactions and relationships between people, a world that is both everywhere and nowhere. We have no need of gatekeepers.

We want to live with an Internet that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, gender, location, economic power, military force, language or station of birth. We reject differentiation between the digital bits that carry the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, all parts of a seamless global conversation.

We want to live with an Internet where anyone anywhere may express their beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.  We reserve a special place for the creators and makers, who draw from their human experience to create and share meaning.

We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, collective governance will emerge. We are citizens of different countries and also citizens of the Internet. Our identities are distributed across your walled gardens. The only law that all our constituent cultures generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hoped that you would build solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose. We reject your financial models that venerate advertising and trade personal information, riding roughshod over personal privacy.

Apple, Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, TenCent, AliBaba and a myriad of other corporate actors are erecting tollbooths across the Internet. You control what we access with your biased algorithms, designed from your perches of privilege, over which we have no recourse.  We demand transparency of your methods to filter and present our information. We demand that you provide redress to those adversely affected by your algorithms. We demand that you take accountability for your actions, and ensure that they do not create discriminatory bias.

Your increasingly obsolete information models perpetuate themselves by concentrating wealth and controlling speech throughout the world. These algorithms declare ideas, and the people that create them, to be another industrial product no more noble than pig iron. We believe that these ideas are the very heart and soul of the Internet, and must be treated with respect.

The Internet is not a single global community, but a vast collection of distributed communities.  This decentralisation of identities, values and data is threatened by your actions.  Your increasing colonisation places us in the same position as previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who rejected the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We declare our virtual selves immune to your control, and do not consent to your rule over our lives.

We are the makers; we have the skills, the ethos, and the determination to create a better world built on the values of freedom and trust.  We will make the Internet as the digital commune of the future, built on surplus not scarcity. May it be more humane and fair than the world your corporations have made.

Laurence Millar, with thanks to John Perry Barlow

Wellington, New Zealand

15 December 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Digital Goverment? Sort of.

I regained my sense of excitement about digital technologies during my two days at the NetHui2017. Maybe it was the unusual gender balance at the front of the room: three keynote speakers - all female, a female MC, one all-female panel and 50-50 split on the other panel I attended. Maybe it was the agenda* set by the new Minister with a portfolio of all things digital, which seem to embrace the values and priorities of the Internet community in New Zealand (*start video at 27:00). Maybe it was reconnecting with the community after several years mostly working outside New Zealand. Whatever the reason I came away rejuvenated and motivated to resume this blog.

This post is about my recent application for New Zealand superannuation (“National Super”) with scores for digital on a scale from A+ and F at the different stages.

It started with an A+: the government knew that I would turn 65 in December and wrote me a letter telling me how to apply - a return on investment for all the time I spent completing my date of birth on government forms. Proactive notification of entitlements to citizens shows how government can use information that it has collected, rather than placing it in write-only storage. Some may require a digital notification for an A+, but I see proactive service delivery as transformational.

The letter explained that I should call an 0800 number to get a client reference number, After 20 minutes wait time, I explained what I needed and was transferred to the National Super call centre. Why not give the correct number in the proactive notification letter?

Armed with my client reference number I started the online application process. I used the option of logging in with RealMe, no need for another password to access a government service.

My wife had applied for superannuation earlier in the year with all of her details and many of mine. Some of the information she had provided was already prefilled in my online application; some was not and I needed to re-enter the same data. The date she arrived in New Zealand was incorrect – had the data from her application been manually re-keyed into another system?

I was told I needed to visit an MSD office with my wife to present evidence of my identity, was offered an appointment the next day and received immediate confirmation.

I needed to bring documentary evidence of my identity and address. Asking my computer screen why I needed to do this, when Government had already provided me with a RealMe verified identity provided some release of my frustration but no answer. 

The meeting started at the scheduled time and was moderately efficient, although there did seem to be some work involved in copying information from one computer screen to another.

I provided my passport, driving license, and the letter the government sent me to start this process. The officer made photocopies of these documents (which had all been produced from data in government computers). It was only later I realised that I had taken my expired rather than my current passport. The officer asked whether I had signed the online application; I said that I had ticked the box and submitted the form online. She printed the form for me to sign physically, and the meeting was over. The officer explained that the physical interview was not needed for applicants born in New Zealand and this might be extended to people born overseas in the future. It was not clear why my wife needed to be there.

Some may consider a “Fail” to be a bit harsh. I appreciate the need to verify identity before setting someone up with a regular government payment for the rest of their life. However, I already have a verified digital identity issued by the government, the interview itself added no value, my wife did not need to be there, and government is now storing photocopies of my passport and driving license for no reason; this is clear evidence of unnecessary “make work”.

I score the overall process as a B; there were some very good aspects, such as proactive notification and confirmed timely appointments. However as a digital experience it fell well short of what is possible. A citizen who has lived at the same address in New Zealand for more than 30 years and holds a verified digital identity issued by the government should be able to complete the whole application online. 

The government target is that 80% of the transactions for the twenty most common public services will be completed digitally by 2021. Application for National Super was not included in the original list of common public services, but has recently been added.  It could be an “quick win”  for online uptake, but process redesign is needed to achieve the full potential of digital government.