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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Persistent themes and novel problems

Summary

The popular phrase ‘Information Society’ was coined to describe the essence of the computerised world. From globalised financial markets to government, from national and international security to education, from multinational corporations to small employers, from police to social welfare, medical treatment and social services, we are confronted by information repositories and retrieval systems whose capacity to store and transmit information is staggering. A moment's thought should make us appreciate that we have always been an information society. Anyone who has studied the constitutional history of Britain will appreciate that a major factor in the struggle between Crown and Parliament was the latter's desire to be informed about who counselled and advised the monarch in the formulation of policy. That monumental work in the history of our public administration, the Domesday Book, was basically an information exercise to assess the wealth and stock of the nation. Our process of criminal trial by law constitutes an attempt to exclude unreliable evidence and to establish by rules of evidence a more reliably informed basis of fact on which to establish guilt or innocence. Lawmaking itself ‘confessedly needs to be based on an informed judgment’ requiring ‘the widest access to information’. The spread of information in the form of fact, opinion or ideas has variously been repressed, exhorted, victimised or applauded to advance the ideologies of those whose moment of power is in the ascendant. In this general sense, we can see previous societies as information societies.

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