Monday, August 23, 2004

Wrestling with Secrecy, Privacy, and Transperancy

The Bellman pointed me to this article by David Brin, the author of the Uplift Trilogies. I'm in the process of reading his book, the Transparent Society, but Brin lays out quite a bit of his argument for transparency at his webpage.

Brin poses the thought experiment of a totally transparent society where the citizens can see every arrest, every interrogation, use any camera in the world freely. He acknowledges that reasonable restrictions would have to be imposed, such as felons not being able to see into police headquarters.

They totally transparent society is perhaps not possible. So the question becomes what principles do we use to determine the limits of transparency. Brin is very persuasive and I think there should be a presumption in favor of transparency in a democracy.

I ran across this article by Knight-Rider's Philip Dine discussing the need for secrecy for intelligence operations and the dangers of information being disseminated too widely, especially by politicians seeking political gain.

I think democracies must always struggle with these questions of transparency and secrecy. The failure to prevent 9-11 and the the repudiation of the Geneva Accords by this administration (which I feel led to the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay) has led for the current push to break down barriers in sharing classified information and increasing transparency and oversight in the U.S. intelligence community.

Abu Ghraib really pissed me off. I think this administration's hostility to international law and lack of respect for human rights contributed to that and that makes me want more oversight of intelligence, but I think Mr. Dine also makes a few good points. Abolishing our intelligence apparatus is certainly not a good idea and neither is hamstringing it. So where to draw the lines and under what principles is the important question, I think.

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