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Communications of the ACM

Law and technology


Digitocracy, illustrative photo

Digital technologies have unleashed profound forces changing and reshaping rule making in the democracies of the information society. Today, we are witnessing a transformative period for law and governance in the digital age. Elected representative government and democratically chosen rules vie for authority with new players who have emerged from the network environment. At the same time, network technologies have unraveled basic foundational prerequisites for the rule of law in democracy like privacy, freedom of association, and government oversight. The digital age, thus, calls for the emergence of a Digitocracy—a new set of more complex governance mechanisms assuring public accountability for online power held by state and nonstate actors through the creation of new checks and balances among a more diverse group of players than democracy's traditional grouping of a representative legislature, executive branch, and judiciary.

We are witnessing a transformative period for law and governance in the digital age.

Where Google and Facebook know more than most spy agencies about the lives of millions of citizens as well as the inner workings of companies and governments, information powerhouses and platforms can establish their own rules for citizens' interactions online. Where public-sector surveillance and private-sector tracking are so pervasive, citizens lose the ability to control the disclosure of their thoughts, friends, activities, and no longer have privacy. Where lone coders wreak massive havoc for private gain or for opposition to governmental policies, they can use their information resources to reject majority rule. Where technology can protect the anonymity of wrongdoers, rule-breakers can escape accountability. In short, the modern information society destroys one of the most fundamental truths of any democracy that "the power to make the laws rests with those chosen by the people."a


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