Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Case Against Transparency

Larry Lessig writes an interesting piece entitled Against Transparency The New Republic.

Many of the arguments made by Lessig echo many of our in class discussions. In particular, Lessig notes that transparency does not necessarily lead to greater understanding. Rather, in some cases increased transparency can lead to misunderstanding and misperception. In a world of excessive data flows it is easy to misinterpret data when the context required to understand the data is missing.

O'Harrow made a similar argument in No Place to Hide. When he noted that even when accurate data was released it could easily be misunderstood and abused. The story of the man who lost is job because his juvenile record of vandalism was released to his employer offers a case in point.

I recommend that you peruse this article prior to next weeks class when we our guest speaker Brian Drake will discuss how the government is using cloud computing and social media to increase transparency.


Brodi said...

Not that this directly applies to this article; but, a friend of mine at Butler University in Indiana recently sent me a FB message telling me to look at the case of Jess Zimmerman, a junior at Butler.

Last year, Zimmerman had a blog where he posted under a pseudonym in which he was critical of the Butler Administration, specifically two administrators that were supposedly responsible for the firing of a popular Chair of the Music Department.

Now, Butler is suing Zimmerman on terms of defamation and libel. It's an interesting case, because in the blog, Zimmerman does claim that things are "fact" and "confirmed by sources within the department" and then goes on to talk negatively about specific administrators claiming they are incompetent, etc.

I just wonder how strong the University's case is and whether or not they have the right to pursue a case against a student who blogged critically of the Administration anonymously.

You can read more here:

Tom O'Connor said...

I can say from experiecne that many (perhaps even a majority) of USG offices and agencies would benefit greatly from increased tranparency. The level of inefficiency and tolerance of wasted hours and resources can often be astounding.

However, I do share Lessig's concerns that transparency across the board, particularly with individual relationships and their suggested influence on decision-making, can be very dangerous and really does play exactly into O'Harrow's argument in No Place to Hide.

It is important that with increased transparency comes increased discretion as to what information is going to follow along with this trend. A blanket unveiling across the board is unecessary and downright dangerous.

April Eubank said...

I have to say that, perhaps, I am a bit further to the side of transparency than the position taken in the novel. The case mentioned within the novel in which the employee was fired because of his juvenile record seems to be more a case of the employer making a judgment mistake than a true argument against transparency. Personally, I would just as well have all of a person's transgressions under the law made available if transparency could be increased at the government level. I think the kind of information transparency mentioned herein had damaging aspects to it, but that using the case as a method of generalizing the concept of transparency as a whole is rather dangerous.