Here at StateLegitimacy.com, we’re interested in two things. First, how we measure legitimacy, and how legitimacy is constructed, and second, how technology impacts on legitimacy. We’re going to ask the question: could Rousseau’s Social Contract be implemented in technology? What if the state became a platform?
Let’s imagine that all eGovernment stuff was done, and integrated. Taxation, social welfare, voting, building planning permission, speeding tickets, land registry, even the legal system, were all online. Citizens had an Identity Card, and their numbers were the basis upon which all State and Local Government services were administered. Every citizen has a log in to the State Dashboard in order to access services, and there are tremendous efficiencies delivered as a result. When babies are born, they are allocated their Identity Card too, with designated guardians authorized to access their State ‘accounts’, like personal assistants today. In turn, people can assign access to their accountants, lawyers, doctors and so on. Everything works swimmingly. Emergency and security services are coordinated. Health and social services are streamlined. Banking and taxation services are harmonized. Overlaps and redundancy in government service provision are minimized. Biometric security and real-time predictive analytical fraud models preempt security breaches in a perfect system.
Imagine also that the telecommunications market finally reaches a tipping point where all network assets are pooled under state ownership, and the telcos become, effectively, service providers, just like NBN is doing in Australia. So the government owns and controls the physical infrastructure, and secures the communications infrastructure. In theory, the government now can be aware of all of the data flowing into and out of every home in the country, and on every device in the country. This is all possible today technically, though politically, socially, it’s not very acceptable. But – leaving that to one side – let’s say that the government can model people. Let’s take an example.
I am a citizen of Ireland, and the government delivers all of its services online. I have my national identity online, and it is used to access taxation services, healthcare, education, national professional certifications, and so on. When I log in to my government portal, I see all of the information that is relevant to me. My tax and residency status; my entitlements (free medical checkup, tax credit for student loans etc.) and obligations (motor tax) and so forth. I may be notified of government events – upcoming elections, regional services, local issues like road works or electricity / communications grid upgrades.
I am a small business in Ireland – a cabinet maker – and I access the economic infrastructure online. My company registration and filings are all done online, and my official registered accountant and lawyer (whose certifications are validated online, and who have their own service network) are attached to my company. My tax returns are all online, and services (grants for business expansion, for example) are communicated to me. I can get statistical and demographic information about my area from the Central Statistics Office, tailored for my business.
In a B2B sense, the relationships between businesses – suppliers, wholesalers, services providers – can be modeled and mapped out. As a small business, I can find a lawyer, find an accountant, find an advertising company to help my business through this system. Perhaps I can read reviews and comments from other clients of those other business people. I can compare prices. The ‘service assurance’ in the background ensures that I won’t get caught with a disbarred solicitor, or a dodgy accountant.
Next, we can connect the businesses, with the customers. As a private citizen, perhaps I want to find a cabinet maker, or a solicitor, or a coffee shop. I can ask the system to find a number of these for me. Based on what the system knows about me – location, age, occupation – it can be more specific in recommending appropriate services. With all of the data that the system has access to, it can be very smart in predicting what needs I am likely to have, and in sourcing support to fulfill those needs. Perhaps I had a car crash – police records will be in the system too – and so I need a mechanic, an assessor, a solicitor, a doctor.
Now, imagine if we opened it up. We qualify to be citizens by dint of birth, or through alternate qualification such as residency. But the state provides services to non-nationals all the time. So let’s say visiting workers, tourists and asylum seekers should also be allowed to access the system, in a tailored way. And let’s make it bi-directional; members (let’s call them that instead of citizens) can use the system to offer their services for work, or their wares for sale. Social networks, ad hoc relationships (a network around an event like a wedding, or a college class for example) can be organised and served by the system and its other members.
Trade and commerce now transacts online, on the State platform, from advertising all the way through to payment, refunds and returns, everything. This is not some neo-communist plot that excludes private industry – agency remains a vital part of the new economy, it is merely that the services of the state, essential for all commerce, are delivered in an intelligent, integrated way.
Democratic participation in the State would be dependent on access to the system. Therefore Democratic participation in the state – and by extension citizenship – would be equivalent to your membership of, or subscription to, the system. If you’re not in the system, you’re not a citizen, you’re stateless. That you are on the island (let’s say the state’s physical geography is an island) does not mean you are a citizen. Tourists, business visitors would be given biometrically secured access to the system as they enter any of the ports. Interconnection with other State Platforms would assure international security.
So citizenship then is based on access to the computer system. There are several questions that flow from this – legitimacy, war, sovereignty, international relations, citizenship, data protection and privacy rights, all of these things change. Wealth distribution philosophies become directly enforceable, not arbitrarily allocated based on Darwinist criteria. We’ll look at these and other aspects of the Platform State in future blog posts.