Internet and Democratic Stability: The Legal Challenge to Face the Threat
Card, Duncan Cornell, University of New Brunswick Law Journal
There are few political scientists who would deny that access to current and reliable information, by as many citizens as possible, is one of the most important ingredients to maintaining and protecting a free and democratic society. There are few others who would refute that the Internet, whether used as a personal communication medium, as a research tool, or as the backbone of data communications that underpins vast segments of our economy, is crucial to the social and economic fabric of democratic society. Therefore, when one considers which aspects of the relationship between the Internet and democracy are the most important and challenging, our dependence on information reliability, data integrity, authenticity, and media dependability stands out.
As both a political institution and as a social and economic way of life, our democracy stands on the shoulders of a network of infrastructures that we depend and rely upon. Generally, as those infrastructures emerged at various intervals of our history, our political and legal systems adapted to recognize their importance and the role they play in enabling our democratic society. Through a series of laws, regulations, regulatory bodies, and various arrays of public policy initiatives (perhaps driven by funding decisions of some sort), those infrastructures are secured and protected in the public interest in ways that ensure their essential contributions to our political economy.
In fact, it is difficult to think of an infrastructural component of a free and democratic society that is not insulated from abuse, corruption, and erosion by highly defined laws and regulations, international agreements or treaties, the supervision by expert regulatory bodies, and by law enforcement agencies that monitor compliance. Whether it is our financial infrastructure (banking and securities), or infrastructures that are related to telecommunications, transportation, education, health care, agriculture and food safety, or even our own labour force, our political and legal leadership in most, if not all, cases has done an acceptable job of assessing the relationship between the needs of a free and democratic society and the dependence of our society on the infrastructures that support it. In essence, at some point along the infrastructure development curve, those who act in the public interest must step back and question the vulnerability of our democratic society if a particular infrastructure were to be threatened or compromised, whether safe food, safe roads, well-tested and effective drugs, the ability of civil defence personnel to communicate by cell phone in a time of crisis, the integrity of financial markets, or even to the effectiveness of our education system.
In the case of the Internet, consider how it directly affects, facilitates, and supports billions of dollars a year of Canada's gross domestic product. Is the Internet now any less important to protecting the integrity of our democracy than the postal and rail systems were 100 years ago, the road systems were 85 years ago, the banking system was 70 years ago, or the capital markets and medical care delivery systems are today? Even though the Internet is, without question, a crucial social and economic pillar of our free and democratic society, we have not yet recognized that it has passed the "tool of convenience" stage in the evolution of all great infrastructure pillars. While pundits debate whether the Internet "should be regulated"--for example, the extent to which the Internet should be exempt from certain domestic laws, like domestic cultural industry ownership laws--those deliberations are being rapidly eclipsed by the realities of our democracy's absolute dependence on the integrity, reliability, authenticity, and efficiency of the Internet. In a very real and practical sense, the success of the Internet as a backbone medium for our society and the degree to which it is inextricably interconnected with many other economic and social institutions that, in their own rights, are pillars of democracy, have rendered such Internet regulation debates anachronistic at best and irrelevant at least. …