Analyzing Information Technology & Societal Interactions: A Policy Focused Theoretical Framework
49 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2007 Last revised: 21 Nov 2007
Date Written: November 6, 2007
Information technologies affect a variety of fundamental societal concerns, such as privacy and free speech. Policymakers currently analyze each societal concern as sui generis, ignoring commonalities among IT issues. This paper develops a comprehensive descriptive framework to address a variety of IT policy problems. The Information Technology and Societal Interactions (ITSI) framework theorizes how information technology develops, evolves, and influences society. This framework ties together several existing theoretical concepts, while translating them into a practical framework that policymakers can apply to real problems. The framework is illustrated by analyzing wireless security issues.
The article seeks to move beyond Lessig's work by providing a clearer and more comprehensive view of how IT interacts with society. An urgent need has arisen for this type of theoretical framework. Unlike other fields, a compelling theoretical approach within IT law and policy does not exist. As a result, each policy issue is treated as unique and policymakers overlook commonalities. This occurs because the existing theoretical approaches, such as structuration and actor-network theory (ANT), fail to provide applicable models for addressing concrete problems.
ITSI is inspired by structuration and ANT, but is tailored to the theoretical and practical needs for analyzing the interactions between IT and society. ITSI focuses on four main relationships within ITSI. These relations are: (1) how technology affects individuals, (2) how individuals reconfigure technology, (3) how developers shape technology, and (4) how society, in mass, can intervene and alter how technology operates. ITSI builds upon a large corpus of descriptive and normative scholarship by computer scientists, sociologists, communications scholars, and legal scholars. The contribution here does not define a new set of relationships between society and information technology, but explicates existing relationships and develops a descriptive framework that provides analytical insights.
This article illustrates ITSI through an analysis of security issues involved in wireless technology. The analysis found that consumers are not provided with simple and effective security because of the increased reliance on user configuration. ITSI led to this finding; it would not have emerged using conventional policy analysis. ITSI also provides solutions to this problem. Instead of looking toward users to improve security, policymakers should look to manufacturers to develop APs that are secure by design. The analysis ends by pointing out a number of strategies to influence manufacturers to improve the design of wireless APs.
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