Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Openness Should Prevail

I don’t have any really firm conclusion on the latest Wikileaks release. I certainly am less impressed by the shrill and hyperbolic rhetoric of those decrying it than by remarks of those supportive of it, which sound more calm and rational in nature.

I do know that in general, secrecy is the enemy of democracy. There was criticism during the Bush Administration that secrecy was being abused and on his first day in office Obama drew praise for his clarification of how the Freedom of Information Act was to be interpreted in his administration, saying that, “In the presence of doubt, openness will prevail.”

I do believe that our government under Obama has been less secretive, and that certainly is a reflection of him maintaining a promise of his campaign.

Still, in reading much of the Wikileaks material much of my reaction is in the nature of, “Why in the world was this stamped ‘secret’ in the first place?” Lawrence O’Donnell made a valid point last night, I believe, when he questioned the sheer massiveness of the leak and asked if we had material within it that truly was damaging would it not have been better to maintain it in a smaller database that could have been more easily protected. Given the mass of material it would seem that in the “presence of doubt” it has not been openness which has prevailed.

The fundamental principle that I believe is important, to me, is that whether the material is embarrassing or not does not matter. What does matter is that the more we know about the behavior of the people we elect to govern us the better. We are doing a really lousy job of choosing people for our government right now, and the degree to which they are able to conceal their actions from us is no small part of the reason for that.

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