Democracies are complex architectures with several political, informational, and procedural dimensions. They are also for this reason extraordinarily vulnerable architectures, given the rewards that exploiting them can bring. Weakening any one of — or any combination of — its structural elements places a specific democracy itself under enormous strain. 

Abstract

The World Ethical Data Foundation is researching the attack surfaces of democracies worldwide with the intention of providing policy guidance and in certain instances practicable solutions for the minimisation of failure, corruption, and coercion in democratic processes. 

Among our many research areas are: 

  • population vulnerabilities: i.e. who can and cannot vote in principle. (Incl. several species of voter suppression; gerrymandering and malapportionment of the electorate; racial auditing).
  • electorate vulnerabilities: e.g. those of the population able to vote in principle but who are practically unable to vote, whether due to the prohibitive travel or wait it entails, to machinery and voting booths not working or being otherwise unavailable, polling station closures (again often voter suppression, technical incompetence, etc.)
  • broad population and the electorate vulnerabilities: how demographics are targeted by or exposed to paid political advertising. What the individual does and does not see. re. ads: show for any individual what information they have been given, what ads they have been exposed to, and what has been withheld from them; the intransparency of this process (in both the intention and the methodology; incl. the intransparency of targeting and campaign algorithms); media freedom infringements; suppression of political opposition and critics.
  • general information flow vulnerabilities (informational democracy): importance of an informed electorate; incl. disinformation, misinformation; 'active measures' etc., microtargeting, targeted ads; campaigns are funded and managed, etc.; how and whom parties and organisations pay to change minds; transparency of political ad algorithms being used; transparency in AB testing and microtargeting; the activity of the fourth and fifth estates; manufacture of consent; social media and ochlocracy; other means of influence; ad budgets — expenses  — who paid for these (cf. reform); R.TeMiS analysis: textual mining the output of news agencies for patterns in the quantity and content of coverage distribution.
  • vulnerability of the voting process (processual hacking): the specifics of the hardware and software and analogue hacks; incl. intransparency and secrecy of ballots; coercion; verifiability; access; identity; biometrics; methods of voter suppression; database correlation; transparency of sorting algorithms; 3rd party auditing; regulation and safeguarding of integrity of system and process; proposed analogue and technical solutions.
  • financial pressures and bias (campaign funding reform) Incl. transparency of campaign donations; the use and the effect of donations; relevance of blockchain for bookkeeping; verifiability of expenditure and income; who is paying what to whom, by what means, and how often; proposed analogue and technical solutions.
  • suppression in the political system itself, of who is eligible for election in the first place, how they come to be in positions to be voted for in the first place.
  • institutional biases for other reasons

Development Blog

The World Ethical Data Foundation is currently inviting technology and research partnerships for this project. Please contact us if you, your organisation, institution, or company would like to participate.