Why WikiLeaks’ bid for radical transparency failed

WikiLeaks: the illusion of transparency

From International Review of Administrative Sciences

The scale and significance of the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures were overstated, according to this article. Analysis of the WikiLeaks debacle highlights four key reasons why radical transparency is hard to achieve, and why a technological fix alone will not achieve it.

Some regard the WikiLeaks disclosures of 2010 as evidence that conventional mechanisms for controlling government-held information are breaking down, heralding a new world of ‘radical transparency’. However, the editor argues that claims that old-style secrecy is over are an illusion, and that Wikileaks’ advocates have overstated their scale and significance. He is a proponent of stronger accountability and increased transparency, for diplomatic and national security institutions. However, he concludes that this will require hard work, rather than a technological fix. “A major difficulty with the WikiLeaks project is that it may delude us into believing otherwise,”

 

Abstract

It has been said that the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures mark ‘the end of secrecy in the old fashioned, cold-war-era sense’. This is not true. Advocates of WikiLeaks have overstated the scale and significance of the leaks. They also overlook many ways in which the simple logic of radical transparency – leak, publish, and wait for the inevitable outrage – can be defeated in practice. WikiLeaks only created the illusion of a new era in transparency. In fact the 2010 leaks revealed the obstacles to achievement of increased transparency, even in the digital age.

Points for practitioners Some commentators have regarded the WikiLeaks disclosures of 2010 as evidence of a broader breakdown in the conventional mechanisms for controlling government-held information. This new world has been described as one of ‘radical transparency’. But claims about the breakdown of old-style secrecy are overwrought. This article says that the significance of the WikiLeaks disclosures has been exaggerated, and provides reasons why it will be harder to achieve radical transparency, especially in the security sector of government.

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Article details
Alasdair Roberts (2012). WikiLeaks: the illusion of transparency International Review of Administrative Sciences 2012 78: 116, 78 (1 ), 116-133

     
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