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The Importance Of Government In Our Digital Future

With our digital futures riding on so much, what effect are the leaders of our countries going to have?

7Oct

Governments have the power to both create and destroy digital initiatives or trends.

Think about how it is now required by law to have an opt in box for cookies on websites or how certain websites are banned in some countries. Governments control vast swathes of our digital world, but in reality how much do they impact on how we use it in general?

Following the revelations after the NSA and GCHQ data mining activities, it is clear that governments around the world have a vested interest in what we do and how we do it. However, despite the wide ranging condemnation of this, it was not exacting any control over our digital environment, instead it was simply recording what we were doing within it.

The truth is that companies are going to be the driving force behind where our digital future leads, companies like Facebook, Google and Apple have done more for the way we interact with digital environments than a government ever could. They shape the way that we see the world, how we communicate with one another and how we spend our money.

Although these companies are the ones who are our direct gateways to the digital realm, governments are the organisations who control the companies. Looking at the ways in which companies are promoted, taxed or regulated against, is down to governments. Take any streaming service that has had a significant amount of pirated material on it and the first (and only) page you see is the American Eagle and disclaimer about how it has been taken down by the US government.

So we can establish that although they are not having a wide-ranging effect on overall usage and development, they are limiting what can be seen and making sure that companies are controlled with what they can create and how they can produce it.

However, the most important element of their control is the location of servers.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Youtube do not have all of their servers in one place. They have several located around the world (Google are building a huge server facility in central London for instance). The locations of these servers is important as the physical forms of these servers are under the influence of the government of any country in which they are housed.

This is what gave the US government a technical right to the data on Facebook servers housed in the US. Access to this information is only a small element to their potential control. Governments can close down facilities or evict certain individuals who are necessary to the running of them. This is of course only a hypothetical as it is unlikely that this would ever happen, but these decisions are very much under government control.

It is possible for governments to go even further in terms of stopping their populations viewing certain digital properties. In Egypt during the Arab Spring, we saw access to Twitter being cut and in some instances in the recent Hong Kong uprising, the Chinese government has made threats to fully cut access to the internet.

Therefore, although governments may have limited capabilities in terms of adding to our digital future, they have every opportunity to hinder it.

The reality is far from a hindrance in most countries. In London Silicon Roundabout has been created to improve our digital lives, Silicon Valley in the US and several technology hubs in Israel are testament to governments helping companies to improve our digital futures.

Therefore, it is safe to say that governments are important in creating the environments where digital revolution can occur, but it will be the companies who are either restricted or empowered by them, who have the biggest impact on our digital future.

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