This is a work of evaluation, analysis and recommendations for the platform Decidim Barcelona. Promoted by the Barcelona City Council, this online platform aims to promote citizen participation and direct, deliberative and participatory democracy in the city, combining both ICT-based tools and face-to-face resources.
In Decidim Barcelona for certain tasks it is necessary to register as a user and to support the proposals it is necessary to have a verified user account. For the first procedure it is required to process some minimum data (user name, e-mail address and password), while the verification process requires to process three data in order to contrast with the information of the municipal census: the ID card, the date of birth and the postal code. Faced with a project of this nature, it is crucial to take stock of the advantages and risks that accompany this set of solutions. The dynamisation of participatory systems through information and communication technologies can lead to tensions and conflicts between two basic dimensions: the transparency of procedures and privacy and data protection. The degree of usefulness and the scope of public benefit that effectively takes place will depend on the effective solution of such conflicts.
The Decidim Barcelona platform offers a complex tool at the disposal of citizens, through which to promote a wide range of values and social challenges: equality, participation, empowerment, autonomy, distributed management, awareness, visibility, inclusion, etc. Without a doubt, the potential of this initiative offers a unique opportunity both to the citizens of Barcelona and to those who want to lean on this project.
It is also necessary to recognize that, like any tool, it is subject to a series of risks that require subjecting it to criteria of responsibility and supervision, in order to minimize the undesired effects and consequences, among which damage to privacy is only one of the aspects to be considered.
It is possible to point out that there are also threats that lead to possible privacy risks, while risks to privacy can lead to the endangerment of other values and rights. In this way, together with the proposals aimed at improving the levels of privacy of Decidim, we find that it is possible to assess other aspects related to the ethical impact of the platform.
In this case, there is an additional cross-cutting concern, as this is a political tool. This is why damage to privacy should not be considered only as an effect in itself, but also as the possible trigger of associated damages and added consequences.
Informational self-determination (i.e. the ability of the individual to have control over his or her personal data) and free choice can only be guaranteed by offering various privacy options, as well as by communicating the risks, benefits and consequences of the use of technological tools. Although it is true that total opacity can favour cases of manipulation, doubts about the reliability of processes, and even undermine confidence in the systems made available to the public. Depending on the supervision of mechanisms for the prevention and control of undesired effects, individual and collective political rights will be strengthened or, on the contrary, power asymmetries will be reinforced. It is therefore essential to seek a balance between guarantees, of transparency and reliability, and privacy and data protection.