The Market or the Public Domain? Global Governance and the Asymmetry of Power

By Daniel Drache | Go to book overview

7

The informational commons at risk

Alasdair Roberts


The public right to know

Conventional wisdom says that we are witnessing the emergence of a global information society, in which new technologies will provide citizens with unprecedented access to information. This is an appealing but flawed vision of the future. Governments are still reluctant to disclose information about core functions. At the same time, neo-liberal reforms have caused a diffusion of power across sectors and borders, confounding efforts to promote governmental openness. Economic liberalization has also made it more difficult to enforce corporate disclosure requirements. Meanwhile, technological change has spurred efforts by businesses and citizens to strengthen their control over corporate and personal information. Efforts to defend the borders of the 'informational commons' - the domain of publicly accessible information - will also be complicated by problems of policy design and political mobilization. Imposing transparency requirements was easier when national and sub-national governments closely held authority. The task is more difficult when power is widely diffused.

Our first impression of the public domain is territorial. We imagine it as a space - an agora, square or commons - that is accessible to everyone as a right of citizenship, and in which important public business, such as the governance of the community, can be undertaken. 1 But the public domain is obviously more than this. It also includes commonly held intangibles without which the commons or agora would be unusable. These include a sense of shared identity and trust, as well as norms and rituals that regulate collective deliberations (Fukuyama 1995; Putnam 2000). There is another, critically important intangible: the pool of information about community affairs that must be publicly accessible for citizens to engage intelligently in the act of self-government. The territorial commons is paralleled by an ephemeral but equally important 'informational commons', comprised of all the information that is accessible as a matter of right to all citizens. 2

Conventional wisdom says that the informational commons is broader than ever before. Technological improvements have given citizens an unprecedented

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