12 January 2007

And Speaking of Emergent Transparency

Emergent transparency works on the principle of little tidbits of information that are widely distributed, suddenly brought into proximity through the technologies of ubiquitous connectivity. Individually, each information morsel is relatively inconsequential. Together, they often produce an emergent pattern that reveals the inner workings of governments, corporations, and plain old ordinary corruption.

Now, entering the picture is the WikiLeaks project. From the FAQ:
Wikileaks is an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. It combines the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface.

Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.

Consider Daniel Ellsberg, working within the US government during the Vietnam War. He comes into contact with the Pentagon Papers, a meticulously kept record of military and strategic planning throughout the war. Those papers reveal the depths to which the US government has sunk in deceiving the population about the war. Yet the public and the media know nothing of this urgent and shocking information. Indeed, secrecy laws are being used to keep the public ignorant of gross dishonesty practiced by their government. In spite of those secrecy laws and at great personal risk, Ellsberg manages to disseminate the Pentagon papers to journalists and to the world. Despite facing criminal charges, eventually dropped, the release of the Pentagon papers shocks the world, exposes the government, and helps to shorten the war and save thousands of lives.

The power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history. Public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions pressures them to act ethically. What official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? What repressive plan will be carried out when it is revealed to the citizenry, not just of its own country, but the world? When the risks of embarrassment through openness and honesty increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression. Open government answers injustice rather than causing it. Open government exposes and undoes corruption. Open governance is the most cost effective method of promoting good governance.
This facility opens an entirely new chapter in the world of investigative journalism - and seems to address a number of interesting issues related to my experiences yesterday.

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