Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How WikiLeaks could lead to a more transparent state

Unusually for Ross Douthat, he makes some pretty compelling points in his blog post on the retrenchment of the secret security state post-WikiLeaks. Everything that he says is pretty plausible, and it's something I've been struggling to come to terms with myself: I think WikiLeaks is incredibly important, Julian Assange is a hero, and this kind of disclosure is long overdue for a purportedly open, democratic state like ours.

However, it's certainly the case that the easiest reaction to this will be to clamp down on internal document security, making it harder and less likely for future leaks to occur. So you could credibly argue that WikiLeaks actually makes the US government less transparent in the future, not more.

The problem with that argument is that it sacrifices the good on the altar of the perfect: what would Douthat, or any of WikiLeaks' critics, do to actually improve the state of government transparency? Would we even be having this debate? Would the idea that the federal government needs to stop classifying everything in sight be on anyone's radar right now? And doesn't that mean that it's even more likely that transparency will wither and die in a world without organizations like WikiLeaks, to keep us focused on the real problems with overclassification?

There's really no way we can design a system of transparency and openness that won't eventually be corrupted by the elites we put in charge of our national security. The best we can do really is to keep making this a public priority, keep talking about it, keep worrying about it, and keep doing whatever we can to encourage governmental transparency. Criticizing WikiLeaks for making a future government clampdown on embarrassing documents more likely is misguided, because it implies that that government clampdown isn't already happening.

In other words, Ross Douthat: Don't just tut-tut about the naivety of Julian Assange, without proposing something better. Otherwise you sound even more unaware of the world around you than you claim Assange is.

1 comment:

Sebastian said...

I am also a "fan" of Wikileaks. And in addition to the positive effects, that is has, there seems not to be a way for the governments to hit Julian Assange and his allies legally.

So, it happens, what always happens in such situations ... there is thrown much dirt on the doers.

Sunny and snowy regards from Germany,

Sebastian