Governments around the world are struggling to cope with the challenges of public health and the economic challenges of coronavirus. While many have pointed out how authoritarian regimes have exacerbated the pandemic, we have so far focused dangerously on provoking the coronation of democracy.
In democratic states, citizens need to be able to vote, politicians to debate, and people to move, meet and act collectively. Democratic politics is a mixture of mass participation and endless meetings. All of this is difficult when people can become infected with a potentially lethal virus if one simply steps in front of them. The obvious answer may seem to be the movement of democracy to Internet, but some segments of democracy are poorly translated into an online world, while others are already undermined by emergency powers (for example, the Hungarian Parliament has just passed a law allowing the prime minister to rule by decree) and the rise of digital surveillance.
If people have to vote in person, they may be infected with a queen's coronavirus, push buttons or hand out ballots to election officials. There is no doubt that the 14 American presidential elections have been postponed so far. But postponing the election in the midst of the crisis was equally controversial, as the vote would have dramatically reduced turnout.
The problem is even worse for elected politicians who serve the people by holding rallies where they disagree, shout and vote (think the British Parliament). The politicians they may be more likely to get sick because they are nodes in densely connected social networks. They are more likely to have complications because they are often large age. Many politicians, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have already been infected or quarantined. The government and Congress are slowing down as legislative and judicial authorities suspend or adjourn their sessions indefinitely.
The concept of democracy also exists in the streets, at political rallies, public meetings and demonstrations. It is difficult to see how these mass rallies will return soon if they continue to be dangerous or even banned for public reasons. health.
Finally, government efforts to combat the virus by monitoring citizens may undermine democracy by concentrating power in the hands of an uncontrolled authority. This can also happen from the bottom up. Citizens fearing transmission may begin to prefer the idea of ubiquitous and decentralized surveillance as a service, as evidenced by the popularity of coronavirus symptom detection applications in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
To see how these four problems can come together, look at Israel, which held three elections in a year without succeeding in forming a government. Now the country is trying to fight the coronavirus. If Israel returns to the polls, citizens are at risk of being infected. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, was virtually suspended by its speaker on the grounds that the coroner made dangerous votes and their meetings committees. Meanwhile, the justice minister, another close ally, closed the courts on 14 March. All this does not mean any parliamentary or judicial examination of a new system for monitoring coronavirus patients and those close to them through their phones. Finally, the protesters against the mass system monitoring were arrested to endanger public health by making a public merger. This has led some to argue that Israel is in a palace coup and we are not even going to mention the Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, who are dealing with the virus without democratic representation.
Some experts argue that information technology is the answer to the problems of democracy. There would be no risk of catching a corona virus if natural democracy became virtual. Already, the government is growing, e-elections are an attractive prospect, and digital surveillance does not seem as bad as it used to be.
However, electronic voting systems, such as Voatz, which was used in mid-2018 in West Virginia, have critical security vulnerabilities. As cryptographer Matt Blaze says, many experts believe that electronic voting is a bad idea. The online meetings they also have disadvantages. Politics is about formal negotiation, but also gossip and informal enterprise. It's difficult to bargain with the camera, especially in a crisis. It is even harder to move effective organization and activism online. When people protest, they find it difficult to show that they care about a particular issue. Online activism, on the other hand, often leads to cheap click-tabism. It can also be misled and manipulated, creating the appearance of anger on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
As we strive to protect democracy from the coronavirus, we must view technology as a scalpel, not as a hammer.
Until we can ensure secure digital voting systems, we must not use them. As Blaze argues, the problem is not only that such systems could be particularly vulnerable to hacking, but that make it easy to destabilize public confidence in the results of the vote. Postal voting, combined with on-the-spot checks and checks, remains the best option.
Virtual cooperation can be the best short-term substitute for parliaments and can have real benefits. A virtual conference would keep elected representatives closer to their constituents. But it would make it more difficult to coordinate big issues and create a sense of collective accountability. Instead, extensive screening for coronavirus could reduce the medical risks faced by politicians (as well as others involved in public gatherings), allowing them to return to normal politics even before a possible vaccine is developed.
Most importantly, action against the coronavirus can erode the fundamental rights of democracy. There are urgent short-term reasons why we would like to use geographical location by telephone, along with tests to monitor transmission and rapid isolation of infected people, as we have seen in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. There are also long-term risks to democracy if these types of surveillance are not limited to fighting disease and are eliminated as soon as they are no longer necessary. If we are lucky enough, we will have contained, targeted and temporary measures that will be effective against the pandemic. If we are not, we will create an open, wide-ranging surveillance system that will undermine democratic freedoms without doing much to stop the coroner.