The Dutch Digital Citizens' Movement - Digital Manifesto

The Dutch Digital Citizens' Movement (DB.NL)


Digital Manifesto


The Digital Revolution

A digital revolution is taking place in the Netherlands. A new, digital world is being created, one which runs parallel to the one that we've always known. This digital world, let's refer to it as the Net, is expanding rapidly. Computers are being used in more and more places. In offices and at home. Billions are invested in corporate networks. These computers and computer networks are being attached to each other more and more. PC and TV are growing gradually into one. De phone lines are no longer just being used to make telephone calls. Not only television programmes are being broadcast via cable. Ever increasing amounts of computer data are being transmitted along it, with which information and entertainment are being offered in all sorts of ways, think of Videotex, Teletext, Internet. On this digital infrastructure different kinds of services are being developed which will define the society of the future: telecommuting, teleshopping, video on demand and many more.

The mass use of information and communication technology will have great effect on the way we work and live. It will change the manner in which we have contact with each other, pay bills and place orders. It will change the way we do our job, gain information, make decisions and fill our spare time. It will change the way we govern and are governed. International borders fade away with the use of international digital communications systems. The foundation on which the idea of national legislation is based was never prepared for an international manifestation such as the Net. Existing regulations and prohibitions were never designed for the new digital world. The new world requires new rules and etiquette. And that requires ideas, creativity and knowledge. Chances and threats in the information society

The chances are there for the grabbing. New forms of communication and contact between individuals and corporations. New forms of work opportunity and new services. Better informed citizens. Less distance between the public and politicians. But the threats are present as well. Haunting images appear of 24 hour police patrols on the Net, watertight government legislation, and of monopolies in the telecommunications industry a la Berlusconi. What about democracy on the Net? Do citizens get a say in the many decisions, small and large, made in the back rooms of government buildings? Do they have a say in the investments of the government and the commercial sector which will pave the way to the information society of tomorrow? Can everybody profit from this information society or just a small elite? What is the situation with traditional citizens' rights such as freedom of speech, protection of privacy, involvement by citizens in policy making?. What is the situation with access to public information? Is there s pace for community services on the Net? In other words, what are a citizens' rights and responsibilities on the Net? And who defends their interests?

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The Dutch Digital Citizens' Movement (DB.NL)

The Dutch Digital Citizens' Movement (DB.NL) sticks up for the interests of digital citizens. If a new digital society is on the horizon, then we want it to be a democratic one. That it may offer chances to every citizen, not merely to government and commerce. Information and communication technology must not just be a toy for a technical or a powerful elite. We would rather not leave the form of the new digital society over to those who possess the means and the power. We want to help think about what is happening and in which direction it should go. We want to help think and help make decisions about which digital techniques are to be placed on offer, and the accessibility and use of these techniques. Whether we're asked to or not.

That is necessary, because the public and politicians are hardly aware of what is happening now under everybody's nose and what is about to happen. DB.NL wishes to stimulate the debate about the chances and threats in the information society. DB.NL wants to follow national and European government subsidies and commercial investments critically to ensure that they used are in the public interest. DB.NL wants to come up with ideas. With advice. With suggestions for legislation. With test cases. What it comes down to is this: we want to use our collective creativity and knowledge to use the chances that information and communication technology offer to society to the full and to avert the threats.

DB.NL wants to book results with every aspect of this manifesto. In order to do that, we will form alliances locally, nationally and internationally with individuals, organisations, corporations and legislators who are concerned about the interests of the digital citizen and democracy. Everyone to whom this appeals is invited to join us!

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Digital Democracy and Citizens' Rights

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental guarantees of democracy. DB.NL wants this right of the citizen to remain intact on the Net. This means that monopolies a la Berlusconi have to be avoided. The Net-company that owns (part of) the digital infrastructure or offers digital data transport may not have a monopoly in the services which are developed on it. Users/producers must be able to decide for themselves which information they offer, not the company that runs the network. It should be discussed whether Net providers should be subject to a mandate similar to that which the telecommunications company was in the Netherlands: everybody within a certain geographical area should be connected for the same fee.

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Privacy, privacy of letters, encryption

At different locations information junctions appear with masses of data on people and businesses. By laying links between these data sources enormous possibilities are created to organise society more efficiently, but also a great danger of abuse of technology for detailed control of unexpecting citizens. Net users must be protected against abuse of their personal information for commercial means. It must be possible to send E-mail securely. Citizens must have the right to control information about themsleves which is stored in databases. We must further define in which cases the right to access should be accompanied with a right to correct, ammend and delete data. Traditional telephone and post may be used in companies for trade union activities. This communication is thanks to privacy regulations further protected against intrusion by an employer. This extra protection must also be the case for digital communication, such as e-mail over the company network.

A balance must be found between the repressive application of information and communication technology, for example for law enforcement and detection of fraud, and protection of citizens' rights. The efficency strived for in detective work must never undermine the rights of society as a whole.

News: DB.NL is against the mandatory inclusion of chips that allow the preventative tapping of all digital communication equipment, such as the case may become in the United states and Norway.

Information and communication technology has up until now been considered Big Brother, as privacy's greatest threat. The moment has now come where that very same technology can be used to protect personal privacy, for example with certain forms of encryption. Encryption also allows the use of digital money and the placing of an authentic electronic signature. DB.NL advocates therefore public use of encryption in order to allow personal and commercial communication and transactions to be executed safely.

News: DB.NL is against the bill of spring 1994 in which citizens and corprations are required to apply for a permit in order to use encryption te secure their own communications.

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Protection of intellectual property: the legal status of e-mail

In the electronic world no one can tell the difference between a copy and the original. That is favourable for a free and unrestricted flow of information. This must, however, not mean that everybody can copy and use work created by someone else without paying for it. Just as in the analogue world intellectual property must be protected in the digital world. DB.NL wishes to discuss the question of where the limits lie and what the effective control measures are. Maybe here too technology (software) offers solutions to protection of copyright rather than the usual method of legislation.

If digital communication wishes to become a medium in it's own right, then the legal status of electronic messages must be clearly defined. A signature in an e-mail message must be just as legally binding as a genuine signature under a handwritten contract.

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Renewing government and politics

Our political system dates from the time of steam engines and is behind on the newest developments. The relationship between citizens and government, between governers and the governed, is definitely not ideal. Information and communication technology kan possibly assist in modernising politics. It can allow citizens and their organisations to exercise more influence upon the way their life is filled in for them. Exercising more influence from the bottom up. Having a say in the decisions concerning their environment. Democracy is active involvement in decision making, following the course of events, thinking along with the decision makers, isn't it? On all levels: in the neighbourhood, regional, national, international. Assisted by tele-referendums and tele-opinion polls politicians can be better informed of the wishes of their supporters. How that will be possible and under which conditions, remains to be seen. DB.NL is helping to search for the possibilities of information and communication technology in r enewing democracy. DB.NL strives for an equal bi-directional interactive philosophy rather than a one-directional consumer culture.

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Electronic access to public information

De digital presence of databases with "public" information is good for the availability of government information and the clarity of government policy. If citizens wish to increase their involvment in and their influence upon political decisions local, regional and national then the availability of information is a prerequisite, thus also electronic access. De digital version is often the most up to date and the most concise, and is the easiest to come by. At the same time it is easier to discover digital information and to search through it. That is especially important to campaigners who would gladly be equipped with such information as they contest government plans. DB.NL advocates therefore that all information which can be tagged "public" under which catagory many government databases fall, such as tax regulations, acts of parliament, ministerial and parliamentary public information services be placed on the Net and offered to the public free of charge.

Currently many of the databases which have been payed for with public funds, such as legislation, are sold by the government to commercial publishers, who may henceforth call these laws their "property" and charge money for their reference and use. DB.NL is severely critical of this practice.

News: DB.NL will enter a bill in parliament in which the electronic availability of information from government and semi-governmental authorities (local, regional and national) will be made mandatory.

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Avoiding the information divide

DB.NL wants to avoid a division between the information haves and have-nots. As long as there is not a computer ot interactive TV in every living room, DB.NL advocates the placing of public terminals in locations such as community centres, libraries, town halls etc. This allows every citizen access to the Net. Libraries have a special task in making information available to a large public. They will also have to fulfil this task in the digital age. News: DB.NL is against the bill in parliament spring 1994 in which libraries are forbidden to lend digital information.

The division is already apparent on the subject of sex. The Net has up until now been largely developed and used by men. DB.NL wishes to stimulate the use of the new possibilities offered by information and communication technology by women.

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Protection against unwelcome behaviour

Digital communication has the advantage that aspects such looks and age are not known when people make contact with each other, and therefore don't count in any further communication. That can be very refreshing. There are also new disadvantages, which must be tackled. The Net users must be protected against unwelcome behaviour from salesmen and consumers, such as intrusive advertisements and (sexual) harassment.

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An Accessible and Affordable Public Network

DB.NL advocates the development of a digital infrastructure (also known as Digital or Information (Super) Highway) that is accessible and affordable for every citizen, just as the telephone network is now. Just as water, the sewer system and the postal system became accessible to everyone around the turn of the century, now that must happen with electronic information, communication and public services in one public network. There already are diverse (part)networks for digital communication between citizens, corporations, governments and research institutes. The internet , the world-wide network of networks, could, in our view, function as the nucleus of this new Net. It has the open structure which satisfies our requirements: bottom-up design, low threshhold, to be used by everyone, connected computers. In the long run it must not be important if the connections are made via (tv)cable, telephone line or satellite, if that connection is made with your PC, the tv or another device. As long as the apparatus an d transport have enough capacity and are user friendly (amongst other things a graphical user interface) and fully interactive. This last item means: information must not only be transmitted in one direction to the user, such as was normal up until now, but also from a user to others. This infrastructure can be used for bi-directional communication and services between citizens, corporations and government.

Citizens must not only be able to send text via the Net, but also (moving) images and sound. Only then can applications and services be developed that are user friendly and and that contain all the communication and information media. The Net must also be "open", so that more than one company can develop hardware and software. That is favourable for competition, keeps the prices down an stimulates innovation. Every user must be able to plug in from home, irrespective of the technology they are using if they are using a computer or a television set, via the ether or cable.

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User friendly access

Information and communication technology must be accessible and understandable for all citizens. The use of information and communication technology must not be reserved for a small, technically educated, well informed and rich elite. DB.NL stimulates developments toward a user friendly (equipped with a graphical user interface) communications system, so that everyone can work without any problems and can bear the fruits of it. DB.NL wishes to bring the aspect of accessibility and improving the quality of the Net to the attention of the producers (Net providers, producers of software and harware, government).

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Space for non-commercial applications

On the Net commercial and non-commercial applications will be developed. That is no problem as long as more space (bandwidth) is and remains available for the non-commercial applications. As long as socially valuable services can be available alongside the wave of games, porno and pulp. There is no negotiation on that point as far as DB.NL is concerned. Digital exchange of information and opinions can allow citizens to organise themselves faster and more easily, with less barriers such as distance and time. This can be the case for a school club or a group of activists against sonic pollution in their neighbourhood or a patient administration. In this way information and communication technology can assist in the creation of "virtual societies", where citizens with the same interests or points of view kan meet each other and where new forms of "neighbourhood" are developed.

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Giving the non-profit sector a digital profile

The traditional sharp division between passive consumers and active producers is archaic. Everyone now can become an information or service provider on the Net. This gives enormous chances to citizens and and their organisations to intensify their contacts with their members and employees and inform themselves about their wishes, ideas and needs. DB.NL advocates low threshhold, affordable, user friendly possibilities to the connection of citizens and their organisations to the Net and helping giving them a profile. Extra effort must be put into connecting the non-profit sector education, social care, health care, social organisations, social work, social movements and local government to the Net. DB.NL advocates educational projects which help citizens and their organisations learn to work with information and communication technology. Projects such as 'De Digitale Stad' (The Digital City) in Amsterdam, that help close the divide between the public, technology and politics, deserve support and followers.

We do not only consider this a task for the government. Also commerce must have an eye open for such "public affairs", even if they are commercially less interesting. In that way commercial organisations can show their involvment with the society for which and wherein they function.

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Telecommuting

More and more labour in the Netherlands is becoming knowledge-intensive. More and more work is done on the PC. That makes it possible for employees and self-employed workers to do a part of their work (usually the thinking and writing work) at home in front of the computer and fax. The traditional requirement of visible presence behind a desk is becoming less and less important for a number of professions and functions. Telecommuting means in the long term a reduction in the levels of commuter traffic, in the total time spent travelling to and from work and in the discharge of exhaust gases from motor vehicles. That saves the environment. Statistics show that telecommuting increases a worker's productivity and job satisfaction for employee and employer alike. It makes it easier to combine work and doing the household chores and/or looking after the children. In addition to that it gives enormous chances to handicapped people to do payed work.

It can be expected that the Net will be used increasingly for telecommuting. In all probability this will bring about great changes in the organisation of labour and in the conditions of contract. It is not yet possible to say whether these changes will be positive or negative. On the one hand, there are certainly chances to come to more flexible forms of labour and to do work which is more satisfying. On the other hand that flexibility could swing around to the unjust. DB.NL wants to prevent this. Telecommuting must become a win-win situation for both parties. DB.NL advocates a policy in which employees whose function allows this, have a right to telecommuting, as long as this is voluntary. There may be no question of compulsion.

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One last remark. Perhaps it is not always necessary to call on the tried and tested method of "legislation". Maybe the Net-societies can solve a number of digital problems themselves. This would be entirely in the spirit of the (interactive) citizen. And of this manifesto.