August 31, 2005

Transparency, responsibility and the Internet

Schneier on Security has a posting up which contains a neat dilemma regarding the internet's ability to foster transparency versus its ability to cause harm via disclosure. Although I've commented, I'm a bit more conflicted than I sound - I approve of Cryptome's mission in general, but I am deeply uncomfortable naming and identifying persons whose identities and information is not already generally openly available.

To elaborate: if a government official is locatable via verified and/or avowed public information, say a freely available directory, then the decision to repost that information is fairly academic - after all, the decision to make that information available has already been made. I see this sort of activity as positive - Cryptome and its ilk existing to 'even the informational playing field' and make easily locatable and available information which the Government or other central players are relying on being hard to find even if legally available. That form of transparency I fully agree with - it's sheer stupidity to run any form of government activity, much less one designed to protect lives, on the notion of 'security by obscurity' if that information is available in verifiable form somewhere someone can find it with a little (or a lot) of effort.

However, if information is not officially available, then the question becomes to what extent does it serve the polity (and remain responsible) to post it - even if it is most likely true? Essentially, the posting of that information shortcuts any possibility of responsible and informed debate over whether such information should be made available - and worse, because the government/agency is more than likely unable to comment on it even to point out incorrect inclusions, it risks making innocents into targets. The people who could avoid doing that are the ones who aren't talking.

This post, in sum, strikes me personally as a radicalization of the transparency motive - one far past that which I'm comfortable supporting.

Posted by jbz at August 31, 2005 7:18 PM | TrackBack

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