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Inside the Digital Revolution

January 19, 2017 by Heather Brooke

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Technology and transparency combined to create the digital revolution, which in turn has ushered in a new form o f monitory democracy. Communicative abundance and global interconnection mean the democratic franchise can expand and deepen, but the author argues that it matters who is made transparent and for what purpose. Content and context matter. Technology and transparency can be used to strengthen democracy by opening up government to citizens, but the same tools can also be used by the state to surveil and disempower citizens, thereby damaging democracy. The author uses three case studies to discuss the impact o f digitizing information on power relations between citizens and states. First, her observations as the journalist and litigant in the legal case that forced the digitization o f UK parliamentary expense records, which when leaked created one o f the biggest political scandals in that country for decades. Second, she obtained the entire set o f U. S. diplomatic cables and reported on their contents for the Guardian. Lastly, she served as a member o f the Independent Surveillance Review Panel, set up by the UK government to investigate allegations made by Edward Snowden that the UK and U.S. governments were conducting mass surveillance programs that were potentially illegal and lacked adequate oversight. The case studies show how journalism is integral not only to identifying useful civic information but also maximizing the public good from leaked information while minimizing harm.