(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

(the first part of this chapter is here)

Discovering (finally!) how your money was spent

Using a family computer in the right way doesn’t saves just the money spent on private transactions. In 2006 two USA senators proposed a bill to create a searchable database, as simple to use as a normal Internet search, of the trillions of dollars spent every year on government contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance. Imagine that: being able to know in a few minutes how much was actually spent and how in your State or County on each budget voice.

Without filing forms, wasting time, asking for permissions or even leaving your house. Can you imagine a better reason, even for those millions of seniors and other average citizens who don’t own or regularly use a computer yet, to change their habits and spend some time online doing something useful and interesting?

It would even be another boost for the computer and Internet industries, wouldn’t it? There are many people who still see no reason to spend time online or “sharing” movies and music. An online database of Federal Government spending already exists in the USA but, according to its own managers, it is often missing parts or sections and at times is significantly limited in its usefulness… solely because of the way the government collects and manages the information.”

Right now, that USA bill has been stopped, but the opportunity remains: hopefully that bill or similar ones will pass soon, in the USA and any other country, making for the first time civic participation and scrutiny on a large scale a reality. In order to accelerate this process, of course, it is essential that as many people as possible demand and use exactly this kind of access to public records.

Your digital license and registration, please!

What is the first consequence of this active citizenship paradise? It’s obvious: now that freedom of public speech to a huge audience is both technically possible and cheap, here come the laws to make it illegal unless you have the same pockets and connections as in the past.

Why not? There is no reason to not let freedom of speech and other rights continue to be officially granted in Constitutions when, from stopping bills like the one above to anti Net Neutrality legislation or turning copyright into anti-documentaries weapons, there are so many legal ways to make them practically and economically unfeasible to newcomers.

Of course, to be taken seriously any (for lack of a better term) “online civic journalist” will almost always have to make his or her identity known and, in any case, accept full responsibility for what he or she publishes. These, however, are requirements which do not imply, nor can they justify in any way, the imposition on private citizens of the same fees or regulations which were made for nationwide newspapers with full time staff. If the laws of your Country already give you freedom of speech, that’s enough. You don’t need certificate or badges to practice your basic rights online, just because you can reach more than ten people at a time in that way or because your reports and opinion pieces may decrease the readership, that is the profits, of some established newspaper.

This is the danger to avoid: before voting next time, it will be important to ask all candidates which regulations they think proper for self-supported, single “online civic journalists”. If they think ordinary citizens should pay some fee or pass some bar examination to keep the rights they already have… the conclusion is obvious, isn’t it?