What Role for New Zealand?

All of this raises the question: what role should New Zealand play in the wider global efforts to respond to the challenges of digital media? Some interviewees argue that New Zealand should follow the lead of bigger, like-minded liberal democracies like the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia. Others thought New Zealand could, and should be leading on these issues. Some saw specific opportunities for New Zealand to provide leadership in niches, like indigenous data sovereignty.

One thing many people agreed on was a sense of urgency – an urgency which has increased considerably in the months since many of these interviews took place.

As one participant put it, “we’ve got some really resounding early warning signals about how this stuff can be used to erode our democratic institutions, and if we don’t sit up and take notice of it, and don’t provide the necessary technical, social, and regulatory responses, we might wake up and find that we’ve missed the opportunity.”

New Zealand as a follower

One of the common reasons given for taking the path of following the lead of others was New Zealand’s size. However another, perhaps more critical, argument was that New Zealand would need a much better system for making policy on these issues before we can be any kind of global leader. Before we can lead, this participant argued, we need to build up our national capacity to understand and deal with these issues, and build up more of an evidence base, we need to be equipped to have a solid base for developing policy ourselves. It’s hoped this research can help contribute to that process.

New Zealand as a leader

On the other hand, some interviewees asked why New Zealand should be a ‘taker’ of policy on these issues, and identified a great opportunity for New Zealand to team up with other like-minded democracies. We are typically at the cutting edge of technology, they argued, so why not take a lead on this. Digital media has brought advantages to New Zealand, they argued, so we want to make sure that we don't lose the upsides of the new digital economy. Playing a leading role in the global response to the threats of digital media can help ensure that we do not.

New Zealand as a niche influencer

Some interviewees pointed to New Zealand’s track record of taking a principled stand on big global issues, giving our nuclear-free policy as an example. One example given as an area in which New Zealand could show leadership is in the development of a tech workers’ union. Because New Zealand has comparatively better employment protections than many other places where tech people work, they said, we already have less of the fear of speaking up. We also have a small enough sector where personal relationships can very easily be brought to bear on these situations.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, some interviewees argued that there was a role for New Zealand to play as a leader on indigenous data sovereignty and issues relating to Māori digital issues. This would first require us to address the significant gaps in our own protection of indigenous rights online. One of the most critical issues is the need to protect indigenous data sovereignty, allowing Māori ownership and control of Māori data.