Seminar addresses challenges to e-democracy

A two-day seminar on e-democracy has marked the starting point in Europe’s attempts to draw citizens closer to their governments using online technologies.

  • Security: The biggest issue facing e-democracy are
    the security challenges posed by immature e-voting systems which
    are vulnerable to cyber-attacks or electoral fraud. Recent US
    examples have highlighted deep suspicions about the reliability of
    these systems.
  • Access: E-democracy, in much the same way as
    e-commerce or e-learning, is heavily dependant on the public’s
    access to a computer and a fast Internet connection. This is why
    the Commission has emphasised the importance of those services
    being available on devices other than computers, including
    interactive TV and third generation mobile phones (3G).
  • Secrecy: An all-time problem associated with
    polling systems is the question of voter’s independence and freedom
    of choice in electing their representatives without feeling
    pressurised by third parties. Polling secrecy was the traditional
    answer to this question. E-voting, however, brings this problem to
    a new level since voters would become able to express their choices
    from any location using computers or mobile phones, away from the
    neutral environment offered by polling stations.

 

In an opening speech to the seminar, commissioner
Liikanen admitted the EU was only at the starting
point in its endeavour to improve EU citizen's online democratic
participation and acknowledged that current available technologies
were still "immature". Moreover, he said, those technologies remain
costly, which calls for e-democracy tools to become available over
multiple supports such as TVs and third generation mobile handsets
(3G) that people are more likely to possess on a bigger scale.

Robert Hensler presented the initiatives in e-voting taken by
the
Geneva local authorities since the 1990s. Mail
ballots have been organised since 1991 and these have proved very
successful in improving participation. In 2003, two official
ballots were undertaken in Geneva using e-voting technology on top
of existing ones. E-participation scores went as high as 43% of
total voters in some communes, he pointed out. Moreover, surveys
performed after the polls showed that 25% of e-voters considered
themselves as "not very concerned" with politics, which strengthens
the case for e-voting as a tool to increase citizen's interest in
democracy, he noted.

 

A two-day seminar organised on 12-13 February by the
Commission has looked into the challenges facing e-democracy in the
EU. Experts from around Europe exchanged best practices and looked
into practical ways to attain the objectives set out in the
Commission's
communication on e-government.

 

The seminar will serve to the Commission as a basis for
further proposals and as a follow-up to its September 2003
communication on e-government (see EURACTIV's new, fully updated
LinksDossier on
e-government
)

 

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