Upholding democracy amid the challenges of new technology: What role for the law of global governance?

Eyal Benvenisti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The law on global governance that emerged after World War II was grounded in irrefutable trust in international organizations and an assumption that their subjection to legal discipline and judicial review would be unnecessary and, in fact, detrimental to their success. The law that evolved systematically insulated international organizations from internal and external scrutiny and absolved them of any inherent legal obligations - and, to a degree, continues to do so. Indeed, it was only well after the end of the Cold War that mistrust in global governance began to trickle through into the legal discourse and the realization gradually took hold that the operation of international organizations needed to be subject to the disciplining power of the law. Since the mid-1990s, scholars have sought to identify the conditions under which trust in global bodies can be regained, mainly by borrowing and adapting domestic public law precepts that emphasize accountability through communications with those affected. Today, although a 'culture of accountability' may have taken root, its legal tools are still shaping up and are often contested. More importantly, these communicative tools are ill-equipped to address the new modalities of governance that are based on decision making by machines using raw data (rather than two-way exchange with stakeholders) as their input. The new information and communication technologies challenge the foundational premise of the accountability school - that 'the more communication, the better' - as voters turned users obtain their information from increasingly fragmented and privatized marketplaces of ideas that are manipulated for economic and political gain. In this article, I describe and analyse how the law has evolved to acknowledge the need for accountability, how it has designed norms for this purpose and continues in this endeavour, yet also how the challenges it faces today are leaving its most fundamental assumptions open to question. I argue that, given the growing influence of public and private global governance bodies on our daily lives and the shape of our political communities, the task of the law of global governance is no longer limited to ensuring the accountability of global bodies but also serves to protect human dignity and the very viability of the democratic state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-82
Number of pages74
JournalEuropean Journal of International Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 8 May 2018


FundersFunder number
European Research Council323323
European Research Council


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