Monday, December 6, 2010

Secrets and Democracy

I've written at length about this before, but the furor over Wikileaks prompted me to write again.  I've been thinking over privacy, freedom, governance, responsibility, and transparency for a while and trying to come up with a nice model of how they work together.  That's still a work in progress, but it goes something like this:

As responsibility increases, so does the requirement for accountability and transparency.  For governments, who hold great responsibility, the need for accountability and transparency is high.  For individuals in a free democratic society, they are mainly responsible for themselves, and the need for accountability and transparency is minimal.   The more people you're responsible to, the more you need to be accountable and transparent to them.  In my mind, responsibility and privacy are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Privacy belongs to individuals.  Your privacy is inseparable from your freedom in a democratic society.  On the other side of the spectrum, you have transparency, which is inseparable from accountability.  And responsibility for good governance in a democratic society needs accountability and transparency.

Governments should be transparent.  They shouldn't really have a whole lot of secrets to keep from the public.  Individuals, on the other hand, should have the right to privacy in order to exercise their democratic rights and freedoms.

This whole system has been turned upside down in the name of security.  The argument is that, in order to have security, you have to give up your privacy.  Now people are getting their phones tapped, their cards traced, and being sexually violated in airport security line ups.  And at the same time governments start screaming bloody murder over the Wikileaks pat-down they've received. They don't like it when people touch their junk.

Democracy isn't supposed to work that way.  When privacy is taken away from individuals and given to those in authority, the basis for democratic freedom is destroyed. This is what we're seeing in America today.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  - Benjamin Franklin

Further reading:
Why Wikileaks is Good for America
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/wikileaks-editorial/
Wikileaks and the Long Haul
http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/12/wikileaks-and-the-long-haul/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fact is that secrets are hard to keep.Cork out of the bottle. post-it-all 1-to:world. Technology is a thread, it always was.. it always was unstoppable.
Maybe this technological evolution is a good thing. CrCrises and the cable gate shows government is not so much in control of the global society. We need proper steering mechanism to survive the global society we created with technology. Whould we have gone to Iraq over Weapons of mass destruction is we were part of the diplomatic cable discussion ? Will reading the cables prevent us from another stupid global decision based upon wrong leader ego's/shortvision ? Probably our global society is in the long run better of with more transparency. Shutting down the discussion/web is not an option. Its like banning books.You hackers made a point. You don't need to be a stupid suicide soldier. The Press is really slow, on the core discussion julian asks for. Give the world some time to adapt and don,t spread AE21 files anymore. Showing military facilities is bad. Responsibility starts with yourself.

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