Next challenge for petitioning software: the ECI

It is times like this that it is frustrating to live in a city that’s (let’s face it) at the periphery of the EU, and to be working in times of budgetary constraint. There are a lot of exciting developments happening as the European Citizens Initiative starts coming into reality… for instance, the Summit that run in Austria this weekend.

Well, since I can’t be there, and I’ve had the chance to think a little about EuroPetition (see the evaluation presentation at the end of this post) and how it can integrate into new developments like STORK, I thought I’d share some ideas. I’d love it if there was a way of taking them forward… italics in the rest of the text refer to jargon used in the Regulation.

Europe as a modern Tower of Babel…

First, the great thing about the EuroPetition service is that it provides a mechanism for a multilingual ECI campaigning and signature collection process – this is exactly what the ECI needs.

But, we the need to distinguish deliberation by the multinational citizens committee of the wording of the ECI, from providing the infrastructure for collection of ‘statements of support’ (signatures) for the ECI. Does the ECI system need to do both? Would the system support ECI campaigners who speak different languages be sure they are campaigning for exactly the same thing?

Signing the ECI (‘statements of support’)

It is important to keep the signature collection as uncomplicated as possible to make it easy for ordinary people to use (ie only enough validation to prove that a person not a spambot has signed the ECI). There should be a separate verification step to check that the national signature thresholds have been met – this could take a statistical approach.

It might be easy to attempt the advanced e-signature collection process referred to by the Regulation. It seems that these won’t need the secondary verification step that will be needed for statements of support, electronic or paper, but the question is which if any government would actually be able to deal with them. I think that all e-signatures will initially be treated as statements of support.

Security: confidentiality, but also integrity

The ECI application should provide a mechanism to prevent tampering with stored signatures, even if the database is hacked (eg using encryption/digital signatures/certificates)

But… how will it really work?

The real challenges are around how the ECI will be managed by the Commission and the Member States… I’m sure this will have come up at the ECI Summit…

  • Creating an ECI service that is certified and accepted by the Commission in time for the April 2012 deadline – this gives us a rough deadline for completion.
  • The approach Member States will take to signature verification – will they provide an electronic infrastructure we can check against, or will the ECI service be required to send data to the MSs for verification?

Finally, anyone developing an e-ECI system has the challenge of getting at least one trans-EU ECI campaign on board, to have a decent chance of meeting the 1m signature collection target – and supporting & informing the EU citizens who have chosen to take part.

EuroPetition and the ECI

Oh yes, the EuroPetition project itself had a successful review, back in March. My part of the presentation is below, but first, a presentation from the PEP-NET summit last year that explorded some of these details:

The last few slides of the evaluation presentation below contain an updated overview of the challenges the ECI has set itself (as well as showing where we had got with our thinking):

Enjoy.

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
This entry was posted in e-democracy, e-government, e-participation, Europe and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Next challenge for petitioning software: the ECI

  1. Pingback: A modest proposal… for the ECI | Spartakan

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