Different Transparencies; Different Realities

While heads-down on year-end activities for the Foundation, I’ve not had much breathing room to think, reflect, and offer commentary here, but then I received an eMail this weekend, which caught my attention and somewhat caught me off guard.  It just goes to show what we often presume to be clear, isn’t always so.

The message went along the lines of,

So here is another example of so-called transparency which is leading me to conclude its not all its cracked up to be.

The writer was referring to the Wikileaks maneuver this past week to publish more content provided to it through downloads of classified documents (in this case, cable transmissions from State Department staff and diplomats) by a Pentagon-based solider (arguably turned rogue).

The Wikileaks site asserts that “Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people.”  Maybe so.  Maybe so.

But this kind of transparency is a far-cry from the kind of transparency that the OSDV Foundation seeks to advance in the administration, conduct, and verification of public elections.

Transparency in government is a sound ideal.  How it is implemented, however, requires responsible conduct.  We believe that while ensuring protection of whistle-blowers and the discovery of corruption and illegal behavior is imperative to the integrity of governments and democracy, the reckless publication of content that is tantamount to malicious behavior intended to embarrass or disrupt otherwise legal activity of government is simply a bad idea.  And its not our idea of transparency.

So let’s be clear.  If Wikileaks transparency leads to the illumination of bad, corrupt, illegal or oppressive government activity (which was the original motivation for Wikileaks when it began by focusing on the conduct of the Chinese government, and co-founded by Chinese disidents), we think that is good.  What Wikileaks did last week, with regard to publishing U.S. diplomatic classified communications, is not good.  And more to the point and our agenda here, if the open source TrustTheVote elections technology leads to greater transparency in democratic electoral processes, then that is a very good thing.  And that’s the role transparency plays in our charter and mission.  It does not (and should not) lead to reckless witch hunting of otherwise legal and well intended acts by elections officials.  We’ll leave that to ambitious politically motivated journalists.

Our intention with transparency is to increase trust in the machinery used to conduct our public elections.  We have no mission, charter, or intent to put tools in place to play “gotcha” with elections officials thanklessly toiling in the trenches and on the firing lines of public elections administration.

So, we agree with the individual who wrote me confidentially that Wikileaks’ idea of transparency in this case was recklessly executed (and could put innocent individuals at risk if not disrupt vital efforts by all governments in negotiating cooperation and co-existence.)  But we disagree with their leap to conclusion that all transparency is bad, or even vaulting off the edge, that the OSDV Foundation efforts are even remotely similar in intent.

Transparency, from our point of view, remains an important and vital, if not fundamental component of the electoral process.  Transparency can lead to better audit and verification, and ensure that voter’s ballots are counted as cast.  The transparency acts of Wikileaks can lead to a better society, if they remain true to their original mission.  The reckless sensationalist efforts Wikileaks seems to be engaged in today is disturbing.  And its not our idea of transparency, although we can assume it is a new reality likely to persist.


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