Electronic Participation (ePart) Conference
Social Networking Systems provide a significant opportunity for governmental policy-makers by allowing them to interact directly with citizens, for example by stimulating new discussions or participating in conversations that are already underway so as to gauge public opinion on a proposal. Because Social Networks are already widely adopted, they provide potential for a much wider citizen base than specialist eParticipation platforms. The WeGov project is building a software toolkit to help policy-makers make effective use of SNSs by stimulating debates, identifying hot and emerging topics and picking out influential individuals or clusters of sentiment. The data storage and processing requirements of these features are significant, and third-party Cloud Computing presented itself as an option to meet them in a way that would be affordable to cash-strapped public-sector organisation. However despite the popularity of Cloud Computing services in the business IT world, concerns about data protection and privacy led us to conclude that political conversations harvested from SNS networks could not legally and ethically be entrusted to such services at the current time. This paper presents our analysis and offers some recommendations to Cloud Providers that we believe must be adopted if the potential of the technology as an economical platform for eParticipation is to be realised.