GDPR in Europe? Now Electoral laws need updating to protect democracy
The acquisition of Power is at its most acute and in its sharpest focus in times of crisis when one regime is threatened by another. The less ordered and frequent the regime change the more explosive this transition will be. For example, Rome in the 1st century BCE before the demise of the Republic or the French Revolution, both very violent. In western democracies, elections are relatively frequent and better ordered therefore less seismic, however it is at these moments that the trappings of the acquisition of power are most clearly on display. Constituents might have been the army, the mob, but hopefully in modern times they are just the electorate.
Arguably the single most interesting man in history was Cicero because he was a lawyer, an orator and a politician schooled in the art of Greek rhetoric who believed and strived for democracy in dangerous times. Before the Republic fell which, he strived passionately to defend, for which he was eventually murdered, he campaigned to be elected, he spent time talking to his constituents. Tyrants like Caesar during his dictatorship and many after him took and held power with military force. Cicero preferred cerebral force and knew then as now that different groups traditionally voted in different ways and as a politician these differences had to be recognised, in a true democracy it’s obvious.
When these moments of change are nearest the surface the exposure of mistakes, greed, ill-gotten wealth, nepotism and other concealed allegiances and conflicts by the opposition and its players are most likely. It has been the same throughout history. Methods of communication containing opinions and possibly including accusations designed to manipulate, suggest and denigrate have evolved from word of mouth, ancient theatres; artistic influence such as statues and paintings; the written word in so many different forms, but in the time of the French Revolution, pamphlets; to the 20th century analogue electronic communications, television and radio and now current digital electronic communications over the internet. Each method is still entirely valid today with new techniques enhancing or encompassing its forerunners.
All the original methods were a challenge in their time with the best communicators and sometimes the strongest armies prevailing and we are only starting to get to grips with digital communications because it entirely encompasses all previous methods and presents its own considerable competitive advantages to opposing sides and possibly interested third parties. What is different is that electorates using the internet are divulging information about their likely choices that can be centrally and relatively easily analysed about themselves like never before. Once those choices are exposed in vast quantities it is possible to predict likely political preferences and make suggestion and manipulate without the source of that influence being entirely clear or verifiable. Therefore, the assessment of digital information is a new and decisive playing field where narrow democratic outcomes with vastly different consequences are decided, like the recent French Presidential election, where the populist was narrowly defeated.
At present this puts a big responsibility on the security of data harvesting operations such as Facebook and Google, even if it is not their intention in the first place to release information about preferences to political analysis it already seems that manipulators and ‘suggesters’ for political purposes are well ahead of what is ethical or perhaps lawful. We are shortly to be subject to the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe. It may well be that Electoral laws need to be urgently updated to protect democratic procedures.