Feeds

Hasselhoff, paedophiles, and a digital Animal Farm

Why David Cameron's e-petitions scheme needs rebooting

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

Column David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, last week recommended that online "e-petitions" should be given formal recognition within Britain's constitution.

The Prime Minister's controversial e-petitions website, which forms part of the 10 Downing Street official website, allows users to start campaigns on specific topics, then seek signatories. The site caused a headache for the government earlier this year when 1.7 million people signed a petition against road user charging, which was subsequently ignored.

Cameron is now suggesting that a certain number of signatures to an e-petition should automatically trigger a debate in parliament on the issue, followed by a vote. If this proposal were introduced, it would hard-wire e-democracy into Britain's constitution.

What benefit might result from this?

Cameron argues that it would show the public "what their elected representatives actually think about the issues that matter to them". The hope is that it would re-energise parliament, and lead people to take more interest in their elected chamber. The idea is a symptom of widespread anxiety that politics needs to adapt to the interests and habits of the "MySpace generation", whatever that might be.

The risks involved in the plan are significant, however, and are almost certain to mean that it never becomes anything more than a cheap piece of "blue sky thinking". These are both practical and philosophical in their nature.

Various problems suggest themselves immediately.

The largest and most obvious is that which always accompanies populist models of democratic reform: what happens when it becomes captured by the mob or the well-organised special interest group? A tabloid-led campaign to dissolve the legal rights of a certain minority – paedophiles, for instance – is one unpleasant prospect. But organised interests, such as those rooted in religious networks, could also have a disproportionate impact.

This is an issue that has concerned political theorists for hundreds of years, especially those who drafted the American constitution. But an e-democracy innovation such as Cameron's also introduces questions that are distinct to the digital age.

Firstly, it is unclear precisely how such a system would be designed. How many signatures would be needed in order to trigger a parliamentary debate? A Conservative Party spokesperson said this hadn't yet been decided, but quite how the figure will be calculated is anyone's guess.

Then there is the perennial problem of the system being hacked and gamed by those with sufficient know-how. By granting such constitutional weight to a piece of software, the incentive to play with it, both socially and technologically, becomes that much greater.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.