Transparency isn’t achieved like this, Assange

Let us assume, as many do, that freedom of information is good for its own sake. We have a right to know about information related to public governance. Pragmatically, we could argue that transparency in government reduces corruption, ensures fair and just distribution of government budget and makes public figures accountable for dubious and illegal action. That said, I would be grateful if anybody could point me towards an academic article providing empirical evidence of some causal relationship between these factors.

Wikileaks does not provide transparency, it forces it. Like many challenges, the means of achieving a goal are as important as the end result. In this case, it is true that Wikileaks has succeeded in providing a pseudo-transparency: if the government is unwilling to release information then we shall take it.

Transparency provides the means for a two way dialogue between citizens and their government. Wikileaks has merely achieved a conversation between the media and its audience, bypassing a now-resentful government and shutting down useful lines of dialogue.

Many of the documents contain information which should make us consider the legitimacy of actions of the Pentagon, diplomats and even soldiers. Many of the documents contain information that could cause direct physical harm to people crucial to a number of peacekeeping and journalistic endeavours worldwide.

But the contents of the documents are only of specific interest. What is crucial to realise is that Wikileaks has not achieved a real transparency. A real public transparency occurs when a government willingly divulges its own information. Government complicity in information release is important because it shows their commitment to the process, including holding diplomats and army officials accountable for misbehaviour and willingness to prosecute individuals found guilty of corruption. At an idealistic level, it illustrates that a government places high value in public freedoms and accountability.

Transparency provides the means for a two way dialogue between citizens and their government. Wikileaks has merely achieved a conversation between the media and its audience, bypassing a now-resentful government and shutting down useful lines of dialogue. The United States government has already said that the contents of leaked documents will not cause change in the US operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. They have refused to negotiate with Wikileaks when the opportunity was offered. What is likely to change, however, is the way in which the military and diplomatic personnel maintain records. Security of documents will be tightened and the number of people allowed access to classified information will be reduced. In summary, the flow of information will be tightened and with it the ability to hold baddies accountable reduced.

For the masses of stubborn liberals out there, please realise that stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is not the same as poverty-busting economic reform. Taking information and making it public is not the same as government transparency. Supporting the Wikileaks projects undermines efforts to achieve true and beneficial transparency.