Thursday, September 16, 2010


Part of our reading dealt with the concept of "open government". Wow. I suppose this topic is hardly a recent one - our reading cited debates on this topic clear back in the Enlightenment -but I feel that it takes on a whole new level in the digital age. Back in the day, supposing an open government, relevant information could possibly be available in newspapers, but would not be updated readily and quickly and only so much information could be contained in one paper. Books would contain more information, but would hardly be worth the effort to publish when government and events can change so rapidly. Additionally, foreign newspapers are not readily available most places worldwide. It often takes time to deliver the information, and if there's a problem, things will change possibly before other nations could take advantage of it.

Today, however, the concept of open gov't would be a whole new experience. Information is available almost instantaneously almost everywhere. Rather than limiting one's self to certain issues or documents, it's easy to run a search on any topic one finds particularly interesting. This is the concerning thing for me about Wikileaks. For those who have not heard of this controversial organization, here are some excerpts from their "about us" section:

"We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people."

"We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government. That is why the time has come for an anonymous global avenue for disseminating documents the public should see."

This organization publishes leaked documents from the government and keeps the submitter's information secure to protect the individual from government retaliation. I wonder about the integrity of such a site. I can easily imagine a situation where it is very ethical to release classified documents to the general public, but I can also imagine events where it would be vitally important to keep certain information secret. (As an example I believe most readers would agree with, when we develop weapons, we want to keep them secret; if other countries know what we're developing, not only do they have the time to plan a possible counterattack, but now that they know it's possible, they may send their own scientists and engineers to develop the same weaponcraft. I feel a lot safer when my country's on top of "defense" tactics.)

So this is a very delicate balance. Thoughts?


  1. How does the anonymity being protected on wikileaks compare to the secrecy of the governments that wikileaks reports on? I think some forms of anonymity and some forms of secrecy are safer than others, and it is not an absolute.

  2. I think anonymity is good in some ways, but not in others. If a document is revealed which is "good" for the public to know (I put "good" in quotes because that remains to be defined), then sure, that person can be anonymous. However, if someone's leaking classified documents like, oh, by the way, we've developed another weapon ahead of the world like the nuclear bomb was during WWII... well, whoever is leaking that information needs to be found and fired and never allowed to look at classified documents again.

    So it has its pros and cons. And it's a hard thing to establish concretely, what's good and what's bad and why and who should be responsible for it.