Κυριακή, 23 Μαρτίου 2008

Digital Inclusion in Greece


The roll-out of e-Government services is currently advancing well in Greece, which is a slow starter in the field of e-Government, but moves now with fast steps ahead. The development of e-Governance presents many chances and also risks for the society. One issue deserving attention is the issue of the digital gap between “information haves” and “information have nots”. Bridging the digital divide would need a great amount of financial resources and a strategic plan aiming at increasing access to information and building knowledge infrastructure. Although there is presently no specific programme to promote digital inclusion in Greece, the Government seems to take into account the need to address this issue.

The imperative to promote digital inclusion is enshrined in the Greek Constitution, which provides for a right to e-participation. In more particular, Article 5A (2) of the Constitution states that: “All persons are entitled to participate in the Information Society. Facilitation of access to electronically handled information, as well as of the production, exchange and diffusion thereof constitutes an obligation of the State”.

This provision establishes, at first sight, an individual right to participation in the Information Society. In case restrictions of this right are imposed by legal or administrative acts, which violate it, the right holder can bring a claim against such restrictions. Furthermore, Article 5A(2) establishes a social right, which lays down the obligation of the Greek State to take positive action in order to make equal and active access to the Information Society possible for all[1]. In this sense, it constitutes a legal basis for policies of digital inclusion, such as funding of purchase of equipment provided to low-income social groups, establishing of community centres providing free use of ICT and access to the Internet and implementing ICT education programmes. Generally speaking, this right is not actionable, for it does not provide the individual with a legal claim against the State, in case the latter fails to introduce digital inclusion policies. This lack of enforceability, however, is not a particular drawback of the right to e-participation, but a common characteristic of all social rights[2].

Nevertheless, the right to e-participation has certain aspects of actionability. In particular, in case certain social groups are legally excluded from e-participation for reasons pertaining to geographical, age or racial factors, then a legal claim is recognized. And also, in case this right is legally recognized through a legal act laying down specific measures, i.e. benefits, such benefits cannot be later totally abolished or unjustifiable diminished (theory of co-called ‘social acquis’).

Beyond the implementation of specific projects aiming at the promotion of digital inclusion, the institutionalization of the right to e-participation raises many questions. The basic commitment of the State is to offer e-Government services and this means that it has to make available online public sector information and further, implement e-Government projects in order to cover all or a major part of administrative procedures. But what is more important, access to the Internet should be made generally affordable to all citizens. This could be made possible with the inclusion of Internet in the universal service in the sense of Directive 2002/22/EC, i.e. the provision of a defined minimum set of services to all end-users at an affordable price.

It is noteworthy that a Legislative Draft titled ‘Participation in the Information Society’[3] drafted by a group of researchers under the aegis of the Hellenic European Constitutional Centre, includes a provision for access in public electronic communications networks (Article 9)[4]. Under this act, the services and characteristics of the universal service as well as the cost principles are to be defined by the competent state authority. Particularly, Internet access for the elderly, low-income, unemployed and disable persons is to be made affordable in low prices, and the relevant charges are to be funded by the State.

As a conclusion, one might say that the existence of a constitutional norm referring to digital inclusion is very positive, but this norm remains still unenforceable, as no legal act specifying it has been adopted yet. The value of this constitutional norm, however, should not be underestimated for this reason. On the contrary, the recognition on constitutional level of a right to participation in the Information Society is essential for the formulation of governmental policies with regard to digital inclusion.



[1] See L. Mitrou, ‘The right of participation in the Information Society’, in: Papachristou/Vidalis/Mitrou/Takis, The right of participation in the Information Society, ed. Sakkoulas 2006, 35-56 (in Greek); Ap. Papakonstantinou, ‘The constitutional right of participation in the Information Society’, Revue of Public and Administrative Law, 2/2006, 233-242 (in Greek); X. Kontiadis, The new constitutionalism and fundamental rights after the Constitutional Revision of 2001, ed. Ant. Sakkoulas 2002 (in Greek), 206.

[2] See I. Iglezakis, Social State of Law, Sakkoulas ed. 2005 (in Greek), 118-123.

[3] This Draft Law has not been submitted to the Hellenic Parliament.

[4] Papachristou/Vidalis/Mitrou/Takis, The right of participation in the Information Society, op. cit., 90.

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