“Open Documents and Democracy: A Political Basis for Open Document Standards” (Yale ISP)

By Laura DeNardis & Eric Tam. This paper employs democratic theory as a method of political and ethical inquiry into the implications of openness in information and communication standards. Our account describes four ways in which standards can have political implications: 1. Standards can have implications for other democratic processes;
2. Standards can affect the broader social conditions relevant to democracy;
3. The content and material implications of standards can themselves constitute substantive political issues; and 4. The internal processes of standards-setting can be viewed politically.
After providing examples of each of these political implications, we examine various conceptions of openness in standards and describe maximal and minimal definitions of openness as conceptual poles that anchor each end of the spectrum of potential standards policy options. We then develop some guidelines as to the specific contexts in which democratic values require a greater degree of openness in both the substance of technical standards and their development, and consider these imperatives in the political context of electronic public documents. Finally, we describe some selected cases of government ICT procurement policies based on standards that adhere to principles of openness. Our overarching conclusion, emanating from both the theoretical and descriptive portions of this study, suggests that movements toward open standards, particularly in the context of electronic public documents, are highly beneficial for citizens who value democratic principles….

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