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e-Democracy update - 21/12/05

21 December, 2005
By Daniel Macpherson

Cronulla riot shows political power of ICTs

The Cronulla riots were a graphic illustration of the power of text-based electronic communications to harness and direct community sentiment, according to a political commentator.

In an article to be published in the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) Council Leader, National Forum Executive Director Graham Young says the Cronulla riots were spontaneously organised using emails and SMS text messages.

"Unlike conventional media, the 'net allows readers to talk back, organise and sometimes even take control," he says.

However, Mr Young says such technology can be used for more constructive democratic means and encourages more positive political forums like The National Forum and On Line Opinion.

He also says such technology sometimes is used to incite illegal activity, as demonstrated by the resulting violence during the Cronulla riots.

Meanwhile, federal and state police say they are closer to finding the culprits.

NSW Police Minister Carl Scully says police are working with telecommunications carriers to locate the culprits, who face jail under the state Government's new anti-riot laws.

"The commonwealth law enforcement authorities have advised NSW police that they think they can start tracing all of these texts," Mr Scully says.

"If that is the case and we do nab a few of them, that will be a very sobering message, because they face the risk of being put in jail for a long time.

"It's a very strong message for anyone else out there that thinks they can send these SMS messages to incite violence and racial hatred." 

The future of the Internet is mobile

Communications commentator Tom Hume says mobile technology will advance the cause of networking more than current Internet technology.

At the d.Construct 2005 conference last week, Mr Hume said there were now twice as many mobile phone users as there are Internet users and three times as many mobile phones as there were personal computers.

"It is the only digital gadget carried by every economically viable person on the planet," he said.

"Younger people have stopped using wristwatches and rely only upon the mobile phone for time. It is the only universal device and the device of the century."

e-Democracy commentator Jason Kitkat says Hume's presentation reminded him of the pervasiveness of mobile phone technology and thinks standardisation is a key issue.

"Many of us are ignoring the mobile medium," Mr Kitkat says, "But Tom reminded us that the massive lack of standardisation in software and form factor along with the necessary role of the network operators does make developing for phones extremely tricky. Yet there's a huge market there - SMS gateways ahoy!"

"So whilst mobiles are getting people connected to a network of sorts, until we see improved standardisation we're going to need to be very creative in providing simple usable, inclusive services through mobile phones."

Deputies protest in Iran

13 Iranian deputies have written to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in protest against the censorship of certain Internet sites.

In a letter dated December 13, 2005, the deputies argued that the banning of certain websites, particularly scientific publications, was "contrary to the constitution and laws" of the country. They said that only "immoral" sites could legally be banned.

The following sites were reported as banned:

Within a week, a government spokesman said that the government did not intend to impose censorship upon the press and media, given its belief that they were well aware of their responsibility for precise dissemination of information and protection of national interests.

"We trust the national media and believe in their unity and convergence with the objective to protect the national interests," he said.

A spokesperson from press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders says it is encouraging to see representatives of the Iranian people campaigning against web censorship.

"Their letter suggests that contrary to the claims of the regime's officials, the government's filtering policy is far from universally popular with the people," the spokesperson says.

New Yorkers go online to criticise transport strike

Angry New Yorkers have flooded various online forums with commentary on the city's recent transport strike.

Sites like Gothamist have received a large number of comments on travel inconveniences after the strike. The site even offers a prize for the most inconvenient travel story.

Gothamist editor Jen Chung says it has been a "doozy of a day".

"The only thing we want to know is how much longer there will be a strike and how long it'll take for the subways to be up and running again," Ms Chung says.

"And we're still a little stunned the Transport Workers Union actually striked.”

Sites such as the Metropolitan Transport Authority and Google Maps have provided New Yorkers with maps of alternative travel routes. One site, Google Maps Mania, allows bloggers to post information on changing traffic conditions in New York.

Blogs can hinder campaigns

A prominent online political strategist from the US has criticised the use of blogs in political campaigns.

Connections Media LLC co-founder Jonah Seiger says candidates shouldn't immediately jump at creating a blog.

"Your opponents are going to be your main audience," Mr Seiger says.

Mr Seiger cites the example of New York mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer's (Dem) website to reinforce the negative impact of blogs.

A blog entry of Mr Ferrer's website incorrectly claimed the Democratic candidate attended a public school. This caused The New York Post to publish a front-page illustration of Ferrer in a dunce cap, which hindered his campaign.

Mr Seiger's firm ran Republican Michael Bloomberg's New York City mayoral campaign against Mr Ferrer earlier this year. Mr Bloomberg was re-elected as mayor of New York in November.

New Canadian Grassroots site

A new website is offering to promote the Canadian public's interest in technology and politics.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has developed the Online Rights Canada website, which allows grassroots e-participation.

The website so far has one e-petition against online surveillance. The petition has over 480 signatures so far and the organisation will deliver the petition to the Canadian parliament when that number reaches 1,000.

CIPPIC Executive Director and General Counsel Philippa Lawson says Online Rights Canada provides a home on the Internet for grassroots activism on digital issues that are important to ordinary Canadians.

"Canadians are realising in ever-greater numbers that the online world offers tremendous opportunities for learning, communicating and innovating, but that those opportunities are at risk as a result of corporate practices, government policies and legal regimes that hinder online privacy and free speech," Ms Lawson says.

See you in two weeks...

There will be no e-Democracy Updates for the next two weeks. Website editor Daniel Macpherson will be on holiday with his family during the Christmas and New Year period.

However, he will be back on the Janurary 11, 2006 with an update on all the latest e-democracy developments in Australia and across the globe.

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