• Thanks for joining us, Minister. In a recent video, you compared digital democracy to bubble tea. What is global digital governance? What food or drink would you compare to it? How do you and the government of Taiwan approach digital governance?

  • Bubble tea is pretty global, last I checked. Doesn’t matter which kind of tea. It could be rooibos, black tea, or any kind of tea, soy milk, any kind of milk, and black, or white, or any tapioca. Still, you have a recipe of open innovation.

  • To me, the two most important thing is that is aligned to the local taste. That is to say, instead of a few elites making up the rules for the rest of the planet, we need to empower people closest to the pain and suffering or to the thirst, as it were, and let they make their own bubble tea recipes based on the open recipe.

  • Value alignment through open innovation, that’s the most important part.

  • Second, it must be done in a way that’s inclusive. That is to say, for people with all the different abilities of different modalities of learning and things like that, we need to provide a public services in the digital realm similar to how we enable universal design in a face-to-face way.

  • In Taiwan, we never replaced pen and paper, for example, when doing contact tracing, but instead introduced SMS-based contact tracing to augment the existing ways of writing, or stamping, or things like that. We need to be incremental and assistive rather than authoritarian.

  • Maybe we jump to another topic, mainly the coronavirus crisis occupying all of us for two years now. For these past two years, there has been an explosion of data-based tools to combat the coronavirus for contact tracing and tracking people’s vaccination status. Taiwan and other countries in East Asia have applied these technologies with remarkable success.

  • Many Europeans, though, would argue that cultural particularities around data privacy would prevent a similar use of technology here. How does Taiwan reconcile public health with the public’s interest in the privacy of their personal data?

  • Simply put, we do not invent new data collection apparatus or touchpoints during the pandemic. We rely on already tried and true and widely trusted and understood ideas such as the universal healthcare IC card, such as the SMS, as I mentioned, the QR code, and things like that.

  • Instead of people having to download any app for contact tracing, they simply use their built-in camera to scan the QR code and send a text message to the toll-free number 1922. It doesn’t matter what kind of phone they use. It could be a flip phone. They can also manually type the 15 random digits into a text message. It’s very transparent. Everybody understand how it works.

  • It’s also secured through the privacy-enhancing technology of multi-party federated storage. That means the telecom carrier which receive the SMS never has the mapping table between the random code and the venue that only the venue owner have. The venue owner never receive your SMS and indeed learns nothing about you when you check in the venue.

  • This way, both sides are oblivious to the personal whereabouts of all the users of the 1922 SMS contact tracing system.

  • When the contact tracer detects infected people, they nevertheless can piece together the puzzles from six or more places, but enjoy a idea of reverse audit where all the actions that the contact tracers do can be reverse audited at SMS.1922.gov.tw where anyone can type their own SMS number and receive a one-time PIN.

  • Then see for the past four weeks who exactly in which municipality, which contact tracer have accessed their record.

  • Of course, everything is deleted after 28 days. It’s a multi-party security based on well-understood principle that people can audit in a participatory way.

  • Beyond the COVID pandemic, authoritarian governments around the world increasingly use data and technology to control their populations. In addition to surveillance authoritarian, surveillance capitalism also runs rampant in parts of the world. Is there a third way between those two extremes? Do we have to come to terms with being increasingly transparent for governments and big tech alike?

  • As I mentioned, the contact tracing system was invented by g0v, a civic tech community. Indeed, the data does not flow to anyone. It’s federated. We do not yield control to the multi-party designs of the Google and Apple exposure notification. Neither do we concentrate the data to any particular state apparatus.

  • Indeed, if there’s no infected people detected by the contact tracers, then all the telecom data does not go to the state, to the CDC center for disease control. This is just the norm here in Taiwan where the civic tech people invent something, it could be the mask distribution system, many other things, enjoy high legitimacy compared to the state.

  • The state works in what I call a reverse procurement relationship where they have the spec in the social norm that is already set. We just provide a real-time open data and infrastructure support that lowers the cost of such civic innovation.

  • I truly believe that a civic tech community is a viable – I wouldn’t say third way – maybe the zeroth way compared to the state, the first sector, and the private sector, the second sector.

  • Beyond Taiwan, global trends lines, where do you see those going in terms of surveillance authoritarianism, surveillance capitalism?

  • I see a general understanding, especially in Europe, of the ideas of data altruism organizations, data coalitions and trusts, many other names, joint controllership, and things like that where people understand that they can form some sort of social configuration and bargain together with the existent surveillance capitalists or surveillance state.

  • Much like how, traditionally, co-ops or labor unions enabled this collective bargaining vis-à-vis the businesses and the state respectively.

  • I’m cautiously optimistic in that the latest trends in developing the privacy-enhancing technologies, decentralized and distributed ledger technologies, the so-called Web3, and stuff like that can enable a new paradigm.

  • Once there is certain designs with that paradigm that’s well-understood and accepted by the people such as our contact tracing system, it’s very hard to go back to the centralized data controllership and authoritarian intelligence.

  • In a sense, the contact tracing system is the killer app of the civic tech arrangement of the social-sector-first approach. I’m sure that there will be many similar demonstrations in your jurisdictions around the globe as well.

  • This format is called Europe Listens for a reason. We want to listen, and learn, and get advice on how Europe can do better. When you look at Europe and how we do digital governance over here, what comes to mind? If the European Commission or whoever actor would call you and ask for your advice, what would you tell them?

  • Trust your own citizens. That’s my number one advice. To give no trust is to get no trust. If the average citizen can participate in the kind of data governance, data stewardship…For example, in Taiwan, even primary schoolers, almost all of the primary schools have at least one of those air boxes that measures the air quality and contribute to a distributed ledger.

  • It not only help the climate science and environmental science competent studies, but also it makes the previously almost unteachable ideas of data stewardship, data bias, and so on very easy to learn. Everyone participates as a node in nationwide system that measures air quality.

  • When they get to the middle school, they can participate in the more journalistic data coalitions that fact check, for example, our presidential candidates when they’re having their debates and forums in real-time so that professional journalists can crowdsource those fact checks and display in real-time. It teaches about media competence, not just literacy.

  • A competence instead of just literacy maker-remixer-based, contributor-based education is very important. Of course, in order to have that sort of education, you’ll first need broadband as a human right. Anywhere in Taiwan, you’re guaranteed 10 megabits per second for just €15 per month unlimited data. If you don’t, it’s my fault personally.

  • Broadband as a human right is a fundamental layer. On top of it, the data competence, media competence educations, and on top of this whole participatory nature of trusting the citizens to essentially crowdsource the national agenda.

  • That’s so interesting, broadband as a human right. Reminds me of my kids’ school during the pandemic when they were unable to stream lectures because of a lack of broadband. I very much sympathize with this thought.

  • Maybe one other question, how can Taiwan and Europe advance an agenda for global digital governance together that puts the individual and their rights to control their own data at the center? What can we do together better?

  • We’ve sent an expert delegate to, for example, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence. There’s many forums in which that we talk about not just the data governance today but also the future. What would a strong norm be like?

  • Previously, when talking about a disinformation crisis, we learned a lot from the European anti-dis and misinformation responses to negotiate with, say, Facebook and other social media so that the targeted advertisement do not bypass fact check.

  • Do not bypass the campaign donation and finance records, do not accept foreign sponsorships during our presidential election seasons for political and social advertisement.

  • That’s because a very strong norm package was already set at the time in Europe. What we’re thinking is that we need to work on more of those norm package layer conversations. Once those norm are implemented, then we can work with the private sector to say, “This is the social sector norm. This is what our people have already broadly agreed on.” We’ve got some experience working in multilateral setting.

  • Through the conversation called Digital Dialogues with the AIT, the US de facto embassy, we talk about a trade relationship, security relationship, people-to-people ties, how to make public diplomacy work, and things like that, using this POLIS system, which is a crowdsourcing AI, assistive intelligence, that helps people visualize the common values hidden in plain sight.

  • Then we can say everybody agree that holding a presidential hackathon together is important, and things like that. Then set that as the norm-based priorities.

  • Thank you very much for the conversation, Minister Tang. We listened carefully. We can definitely learn something from your experience. We hope that the rest of Europe listened carefully too.

  • Europe Listens is part of ECFR’s Re–shape Global Europe project supported by Stiftung Mercator. Thank you all for tuning in and listening in. Until next time.

  • Live long and prosper.

  • Then we’ll come better prepared and with better technology. That’s a promise. [laughs]