Transparency and the web a rolling debate

November 12th, 2009

Lawrence Lessig raises what will be a increasingly intense debate, and the perils of openness in government

If health care reform ever emerges from Congress, it is certain to spread nationally a project to require doctors to reveal to an Internet-linked database any financial interests they may have in any drug company or device manufacturer. Type the name of any doctor into the database, and a long list of consulting contracts, stock ownership, and paid speaking arrangements will be returned to you, presumably to help you avoid doctors with too many conflicting loyalties, and to steer you to doctors who have themselves steered clear of conflicts.

How could anyone be against transparency? Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious. But I have increasingly come to worry that there is an error at the core of this unquestioned goodness. We are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion, or to worse. And I fear that the inevitable success of this movement–if pursued alone, without any sensitivity to the full complexity of the idea of perfect openness–will inspire not reform, but disgust. The “naked transparency movement,” as I will call it here, is not going to inspire change. It will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.

Euan Semple makes good comment

While I share David’s discomfort at some of what Larry says and agree with his wariness of net triumphalism I can take comfort in not actually being the “web utopian” that David suggests I am. Whenever I get the chance I make a point of saying that I don’t believe that the web in itself necessarily makes the world a better place.

It’s a bit like thinking that just because you’ve put in a wiki you’ve fixed your dysfunctional organisation. It takes much more work than that and while the technology does, I believe, help it just the start – not an end in itself.

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