On 31 October, Marietje Schaake spoke at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. Please watch the video below for her speech and her conversation with Siva Vaidhyanathan:
Please read below the full transcript of Marietje Schaake's speech:
'Politicians are disconnected from reality...'
'People trust car salesmen more than their representatives...'
It sounds all too familiar... and indeed; trust in politicians is low, too low.
It is upon us to rebuild that trust. Yet, promises of returning to a romanticized past are deceiving; and closing borders or erecting walls are no answers to today's challenges.
Instead of turning inward, we must appreciate that the public interest is also at stake in the global arena. At the moment when technology connects us worldwide, it is a matter of leadership and civic duty, to shape the society of the future, based on the democratic values that have brought people the highest quality of life, so that this quality can be preserved.
The reality is that all politicians and each democratic government see influence flowing elsewhere:
From nation state governments, to networks local government and multilateral organisations. From public institutions, to private companies. From democracies, to authoritarian states.
Seen from the positive side, people may argue: individuals have become so empowered that they no longer depend as much on governments. But on the downside, democratic principles are being eroded, and even replaced with profit models or authoritarian governance.
The digital revolution is leading to a redistribution of power that is not matched with a redistribution of oversight and accountability.
So, is this the end of democratic governments and will algorithms, AI and robots take over? Should all politicians just be fired? No! But we do need a radical rethink and reinvent democratic governance in a world where everyone and everything will soon be digitized and connected.
As the role of governments is changing, global technology companies are the ones confronted with challenges that traditionally landed exclusively on the desks of diplomats or politicians: Should social media apply censorship under pressure? Who to call when the internet is switched off entirely in an attempt to control people? And which legal checks and balances are in place when content is removed? Which law applies?
Global tech companies are the ‘new sovereigns’; but they are designed/engineered to maximize profit, not democracy. The De Facto norms that they set can conflict with the rule of law, also in democracies. A large social media platform recently removed pictures of a centuries-old statue in Italy for being ‘sexually explicit’, the same happened to the picture of the iconic Napalm Girl. A video of a political speech I personally gave about ending torture, was identified as 'spam', and taken offline... (Now I know, speeches in European Parliament are not always the most inspiring, but, it could not legitimately be labelled as 'spam' and political speech should be free.)
Social media platforms have become political arenas and the catalysts for junk news sprawling. They are also the only place where most young people see news.
Probably the most far-reaching impact of digitization and subsequent power shifts, is the loss of the state's monopoly on the use of force; a principle enshrined in most constitutions.
States are less and less capable of maintaining exclusive control over critical infrastructure, and of defensive and offensive technologies. Instead, they procure technologies, often with far reaching capabilities, and without being able to stop the worldwide proliferation of these tools afterwards.
We must urgently avoid that the digitization of everything, becomes the privatization and weaponization of everything. When every device, from hairdryer to self-driving car, can be used for malicious attacks, even without the owner knowing it, who is responsible for enforcing security safeguards?
With the 'internet of things' and AI, the relation between the public interest and private companies, takes on an entirely new dimension.
So, in short, technology companies have a growing impact on the state of democracy, and states operate with a growing dependence on technology companies.
In this new reality, the interdependence of the well-functioning of digital infrastructure, applies to both governments and companies alike. No-one can afford a breakdown of the global banking systems, for example.
Historically, when new technical possibilities arose and interdependence became stronger, the momentum for global norms opened up: With the introduction of cars, came the need to develop new traffic and safety rules. The law of the seas was developed to ensure governance and free passage of ships through international waters. And to avoid mutually assured destruction and nuclear war, non-proliferation treaties were born.
Now is the time, to develop the governance of our global online space, in which more and more people are mutually dependent.
Without norms governing the global, digital, networked ecosystem, the legal vacuums companies continue to operate in, will grow wider and deeper. This in turn risks further eroding trust; in tech companies themselves, as well as in the governments for whom these major players seem out of regulatory reach. We already see pushback against the big Silicon Valley players, who are accused of negligence to defend democracy.
But, when global tech giants do take a stronger responsibility for the public interest and democratic principles, it will have a positive global ripple effect. We should aspire to see democracy going viral!
There is no time to lose. With growing ambitions of authoritarian states to dictate global norms of their own, wishing to maximize control over the internet, bringing the governance of technologies within their territory... the threat against the very promise of a global, open internet has never been bigger.
This is the time to build a Democratic Digital Convention, involving civil society groups, private companies and yes, governments. This Democratic Digital Convention would develop global democratic norms, that would be ascribed to, no matter in which country a company operates.
We must draw a line in the sand: Governments should be stopped to interfere with people's rights and the core infrastructure of the internet. Tech companies should be stopped when they interfere with the core of democratic principles. The alternative, an internet ruled by the laws of the jungle, is unfolding before our eyes.
We see a science fiction version of 1984, with total control of people's every digital move.
Leadership is essential, not only as a moral or civic duty: it is in our self-interest to deliver upon the promise of a networked society that empowers individuals and respects and protects fundamental rights online.
So instead of promising to press the pause button on globalization and digitization, and dreaming of the return to a romanticized past, it is our role to redesign governance in a hyper-connected world, and to base it on the democratic values that have brought people the highest quality of life, instead of adopting norms that others set, whether for maximal power or profit.
This global ambition starts with credibility at home.
Clearly, retreating behind walls or borders is not an option, when the world gets more connected every day, and when so much is at stake.