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Audrey Tang shares Taiwan's digital democracy successes at US summit

'To give no trust is to get no trust,' says Taiwan's minister without portfolio

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Audrey Tang. (YouTube, The Summit for Democracy screenshot)

Audrey Tang. (YouTube, The Summit for Democracy screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Minister without Portfolio Audrey Tang (唐鳳) encouraged other nations to consider Taiwan's example of open digital development and privacy safeguards on the second day of the U.S.-hosted Summit for Democracy.

Tang joined five other speakers, including Latvian President Egils Levits, on the Friday (Dec. 10) panel, "Countering Digital Authoritarianism and Affirming Democratic Values." Asked by moderator Thomas Carothers to elaborate on the tools Taiwan has used to foster transparency and public trust, Tang said the key is to "work not only for the people but with the people."

Tang observed that the decade between the end of martial law and Taiwan's first direct presidential election, democracy and the internet, had developed side by side. Democracy is "like a social technology" for Taiwanese, she added.

To showcase this, Tang shared how the country's widely praised private sector-developed, SMS-based contact tracing system has allowed the government to limit the spread of COVID-19 without infringing on private information. "We fought the pandemic with no lockdowns and (disinformation) infodemic with no takedowns," she said.

All location-related data is purged from the database after 28 days, Tang explained. She added that a judge had denied a police request for a warrant to access the data, on the grounds it does not constitute information, which speaks to how seriously the government has taken privacy.

As further examples of public-government collaboration on digital solutions to issues of the day, Tang cited the pollution monitoring system AirBox and the Civil IOT Taiwan program. They use Internet of Things (IoT) and AI tech to provide the public with real-time data on air, water, and earthquakes, and disaster prevention.

Tang also pointed to a recent report by human rights organization CIVICUS showing Taiwan as "the sole Asian green light on this year's CIVICUS Monitor." Taiwan was rated as having the only truly open civic space from the region.

Tang urged other democracies to adopt digital innovation and invest in civic technologies. "To give no trust is to get no trust," she said.

Taiwan's envoy to Washington Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) also represented the nation at the summit, though the de facto ambassador kept a lower profile and did not speak at any panels.

The inaugural Summit for Democracy was attended virtually joined by representatives of more than 100 governments, including reporters, activists, and members of the private sector and civil society. According to a White House spokesperson, the year following the event is meant for "consultation, coordination, and delivery," during which participants are asked to demonstrate progress on commitments they made at the summit.