Thursday, October 02, 2008

Secret Suffrage in an Era Without Privacy

My new job has led me into all kinds of interesting fields of research and thinking. One of these fields is eGovernment, and I was involved in running a conference dealing with advances in eGovernment earlier this week. 

One of the speakers observed that the generation currently coming to voting age have completely different expectations with regard to privacy. They fully expect anyone in public life to have a visible profile somewhere - not necessarily Facebook, or social networks, but a profile page on a local council website, or an election site, or the like - which would include various personal details, pictures, and so forth. Having been exposed to 'fake' personalities as marketing tools all their lives, they're perfectly ready to conclude that if they can't find this information online, these public figures don't actually exist, any more than Ronald McDonald exists. The concept that the public figure might not want those details online is completely incomprehensible to them; they happily put up all their own details, and privacy simply is not an issue for them.

The next step is that they fully expect to see voting records for public figures. This makes sense in many ways, and indeed, voting records can be found for some bodies. It's the next step which gets interesting in this context - are these people going to comprehend a secret ballot? Is it going to be something alien to them? With that level of secrecy, how do you know that a given person is voting Labour? Might he not just say he's voting Labour, and then tick all the boxes for Sinn Fein when nobody can see him? Of course he might, and according to the original thinking, that's a strength and virtue of the system. But I'm starting to wonder if that won't be seen as a flaw.



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