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Russian authorities translate e-democracy into life

July 02, 2012, 16:55 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The Russian authorities intend to translate the e-democracy into life at all levels, providing electronic services to people and helping them to get through to public servants. The Russian presidential administration will form a new directorate for the use of information technologies and the development of electronic democracy. The public servants assured that they will seek the Internet technologies to toughen control of the society over the authorities and to expand the participation of ordinary citizens in decision-making. However, independent experts are concerned that the authorities will tighten control over the situation in the Internet this way.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Saturday to form a directorate for the use of information technologies and the development of e-democracy. Presidential Aide Igor Shchegolev, who headed the Ministry of Telecommunications and Mass Communications in the previous government, will be in charge of the new directorate.

Vladimir Putin raised the development of the Internet democracy many times. He instructed the government to create the mechanisms of electronic democracy in the country in one of his first presidential decrees as of May 7 over the guidelines for the improvement of the state administration system. Before September 1, 2012, the government is to create an Internet resource, where the federal authorities are to give public consultations to ordinary people over the bills and the decisions, which are being drafted, and post the information about the results of the consultations. Starting from April 15, 2013, this Internet resource should provide technical capabilities for “people to make initiatives in public” within the concept of public initiative. Under the concept the government will compulsorily consider the initiatives, which gained the support of no less than 100,000 people in the Internet, within a year, after the expert council, both houses of parliament and the business community had studied them.

The same presidential decree holds that starting from July 15, 2013, the unified access to the information resources of the authorities should be provided for people in the Internet. Before January 1, 2013 the government should submit in the State Duma a bill on criteria and the procedure for people to evaluate the work of the top officials at all levels.

Shortly before Putin’s term of premiership expired a survey was ordered at the website of state purchases to study “the needs in political and economic news reports for the subscribers of the social networks Facebook and Twitter.” In particular, the survey offered “an analysis for the efficiency of the postings in the social networks and the drafting of initiatives to establish an efficient feedback between the Internet audience and representatives of the state agencies.”

Russia has already made major successes to introduce modern technologies in the state administration system and to use them for the feedback with the society, Igor Shchegolev said. The Russian

e-government went up from 59th place to the 27th place in the relevant UN rating, he recalled in an interview with the Izvestia daily. Among the countries with a population of over 100 million people Russia is coming immediately after the United States and Japan. “So, now we have provided technological and what is more important psychological prerequisites for this system to go operational in the whole country at regional and municipal levels,” Shchegolev pointed out.

The new directorate will operate in three spheres, he said. The first sphere is electronic services, which the authorities will provide for people. Now the most important thing is to encourage regional and municipal authorities to create the system of electronic services, he noted.

The second sphere is to provide the feedback from people to the state authorities. “Our role is to help ordinary citizens to get a response from public servants,” Shchegolev said.

Finally, the third sphere, in which the directorate will function, is the cooperation with the society in general through the so-called ‘new media’. This is primarily the social networks. In this sphere a program for a higher “media literacy” of public servants might be launched, Shchegolev remarked.

In many countries the public servants join the social networks and gain sympathies there, explaining the state position on various issues, he noted. This scheme is only partially efficient even at the federal level in Russia, saying nothing about regional level, and, moreover, local self-government.

The e-government and other similar institutions are expected to contribute to a better work of the authorities and a tougher control from the civil society, the Novye Izvestia daily cited president of the human rights fund “Commission on Free Access to Information” Iosif Dzyaloshinsky. However, the expert is concerned how a new undertaking may be realized in Russia, as the control of the authorities over the society would be tightened instead of the control of the society over the authorities.

“Primarily, the control over the electronic information and communications sphere is meant to be made harsher. So that the ruling elites could avert some undesirable phenomena timely and improve what they call as the feedback.”

There are many ways to control the moods in the Internet, starting from the basic monitoring of undesirable websites and blogs to the introduction of some regulatory acts, which will punish for the improper use of the social networks. On the one hand, the need to put order in the sphere of information technologies really exists. “But instead of promoting gradually the self-government in the social networks, the authorities would sooner begin to control the situation in them and not only in them,” Dzyaloshinsky predicted. “The email, various types of private communications totally belong to the private sphere,” he underlined.

Moscow, July 2