Over the last several years, there has been growing recognition that technology — as Carlos Santiso of the Development Bank of Latin America put it — “is becoming a key ally in the fight against corruption.” A recent report by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (available here) provides a detailed review of the ways in which digital technologies can be used to combat corruption.
The report, titled “Code to Integrity,” addressed four “avenues” for use of digital technology:
- Avenue 1: “Use open data and open contracting to provide transparency.” On this topic, the report advocated two principal approaches: (1) turning the public sector “into an open data platform, as public data belongs to the people and is the most valuable resource for governments to tackle corruption”; and (2) using open big data “to investigate specific patterns, and as input to design predictive analytics tools to spot corruption risks.”
- Avenue 2: “Use e-governance to mitigate corruption opportunities.” On this topic, the report commented that technology “takes out ‘the human hands’ when citizens or businesses deal with public authorities, reducing the opportunity for corruption.” It advocated three principal approaches: (1) moving services online “to give citizens and the private sector direct access to public services and information and to reduce the opportunities for corruption by limiting human interaction”; (2) experiment with the use of blockchain “to enable transparent and tamper-proof transactions of money and data, giving citizens ownership of their data”; and (3) designing “principle-based policies that stipulate issues such as when to make human interventions in machine decisions.”
- Avenue 3: “Use blockchain to ensure rights and prevent fraud.” On this topic, the report stated that blockchain’s potential as an anti-corruption tool “is of particular interest because of its ability to keep records securely and transparently, ensuring rights to aid, land, money and preventing fraud.” It recommended two approaches: (1) Putting records on the blockchain” in a shared digital database that every individual has equal access to and ownership over”; and (2) using blockchain “to transfer resources quickly, efficiently and securely,” and “to secure the integrity of public goods, records and certificates, limiting the space for corruption.
- Avenue 4: “Use crowdsourcing to enable whistleblowing and complaints over corruption.” On this topic, the report recommended two approaches: (1) Using crowdsourcing platforms “to provide citizens and business with a way to complain about and report corruption publicly”; and (2) cooperating “with trusted organisations and businesses to provide whistleblower platforms to expose corrupt behaviour inside the public sector.”
The report also discussed a number of impediments to implementing the recommendations. In addition to the global “digital divide,” which stems from the “wildly uneven” distribution of Internet access around the world, the report expressed concern about five categories of gender imbalances that should be considered in pursuing digitalization of anti-corruption measures, in order to avoid exacerbating those inequalities.
These five categories of gender imbalances are:
- 1. The “digital gender gap.” On this point, the report referred to the “lower degree of access to technology and lower digital literacy” for women around the world.
- 2. Discrimination in ownership of economic resources. On this point, the report referred to the fact that “in most poor communities, women face discrimination in terms of financial independence, ownership of economic resources and with regard to inheritance rights.”
- 3. Greater frequency of women in the informal sector. On this point, the report expressed concern that, because “women in Africa for example have a higher employment rate than men in the informal sector and lower representation in company ownership, there is a risk that solutions based on formal [existing] data will not capture the real significance of women in the productive sectors.”
- 4. Less access to formal identification. On this point, the report stated that a formal identification “is the key to unlocking access to a number of digital anti-corruption tools such as registering a business online, paying taxes through mobile money, making a bid for public procurement contracts, voting or registering property ownership on a e-governance platform.” An estimated one billion people around the world, however, lack formal identification, and “coverage gaps are largest in low income countries, with women and the poorest 40% at the greatest risk of being left behind.”
- 5. Risk of sexual extortion. On this point, the report noted that “[b[ecause of unequal power relations, women are likely to experience corruption differently than men, especially in situations where power is abused to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage.” It speculated that technology-based solutions “could assist women in reporting such instances, without having to challenge the entrenched power relations directly.”
Finally, with regard to these five imbalances, the report stated its intention “to initiate a conversation about the importance of adopting a gender sensitive approach to digitalisation in anti-corruption, especially considering the structural disempowerment of women in access to economic and digital resources.” To that end, it discussed how these imbalances pertained to each of the four avenues listed above.
Anti-corruption scholars and advocates should read the report closely. Because the report’s stated aim was “to initiate a conversation[n] about the role of new technologies in the fight against corruption,” they should take up the key points n the report to continue and expand the discussion, including with experts in blockchain and artificial-intelligence technology.