28 May 2007


Gordon Brown will shortly become Britain's unelected premier. He has promised to introduce more "transparency" into government. Concepts such as transparency and opennness were also popular with the current incumbent Tony Blair. The present administration introduced the Freedom of Information Act, intended to make information about government activities more accessible to ordinary people. The results of the Act have had mixed reviews, with some claiming they represent a genuine contribution to transparency, and others arguing they are a sham.

But is "transparency" an important goal? Do voters need to know about what goes on behind the scenes? Or is there a risk that transparency becomes a substitute for more important issues, such as whether new legislation is a good thing? Which is better: a good deal of unconsidered legislation, with voters being able to see everything about the processes involved; or legislation of higher quality and lower quantity, shielded by a certain degree of secrecy?

Can the concept of "transparency" be used against voters, by encouraging legislation which allows information about private citizens to be made more accessible, or by encouraging whistleblowing? Does a culture of information accessibility make the sharing of information about individuals between different government agencies more likely, and is this desirable?

Other articles
Stumbling & Mumbling on freedom of information
Ben Fenton on freedom of information
Bel is Thinking on MPs opting out of FOIA
UK Liberty on MPs opting out out FOIA
ARCH Blog on information sharing
The Times on freedom of the press
Not Saussure on whistleblowers
Onora O'Neill on trust and accountability
Shuggy on grassing


Not Saussure said...

A very interesting topic, Heraklities, and one to which I will respond having re-read Onora O'Neill's 2002 Reith Lecture series on A Question of Trust. As I recall, she argued persuasively that trust is fundamental to social, business and political relationships and that, far from enhancing trust, transparency, pursued as an end in itself, increases distrust and suspicion.

Heraklites said...

Thank you for that useful reference, which I have added to "other articles". I look forward to your further comments. I note O’Neill also talks about attempts to improve public sector performance by increasing “accountability” and “monitoring”, and suggests that these concepts (like transparency) can end up making things worse rather than better.