Transparency

2002-07-13

The latest SuitWatch is out from the ever-insightful Doc Searls. (I already told you to subscribe, didn't I?) Doc reflects on the virtues of transparency -- it may indeed be a killer virtue, as he says. Certainly the lack of transparency is a killer, as Enron and WorldCom have discovered. I really think Doc is on to something here. He makes a connection to the failure of the Segway: Dean Kamen was so secretive that, despite the media buzz (naturally ephemeral, given the short attention span of journalists), people couldn't really learn about his invention. This is why Doc is right to connect transparency with infrastructure: something can't become pervasive unless people understand it. For example, you can't understand Windows because it's closed, private, and opaque, which is why people don't trust it (yes, the root meaning of opaque is "shady"). But Linux and Unix are open, public, and transparent, which means you can dig in and understand them.

There are some "interesting" tensions between transparency and privacy. Civil libertarians are understandably queasy about spy cameras in public places, but perhaps the best solution is to make access to the resulting video totally public rather than available only to the "authorities". One of the problems with more pervasive monitoring is that you still need someone to sift through all that information. But if we open up access to everyone, we'll find anomalies more reliably (this is a corollary of the open-source law that "with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow"). Rather than oppose information (which after all "wants to be free"), libertarians would be better off fighting for transparency.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal