Although I didn’t have the chance to stay for the entirety of this week’s seminar, it was very interesting to hear David Eaves’s perspective on how the Internet is and will affect government. In particular, I find the idea of open government quite interesting, especially as we move deeper into an age of Big Data. There is no doubt that the government holds, and will continue to amass, vast quantities of data. A significant portion of our Internet dealings, from the emails we send to the purchases we make on Amazon, end up in the databanks of the NSA. We’re far removed from the era of targeted wiretaps. Data collection is easier and broader than ever before.
With that much data comes a great amount of power. The government could, compiling data from a variety of sources, generate very detailed, accurate profiles on pretty much anyone in the U.S. — maybe even the world. It very likely knows more about us than our closest friends and family. Imagine if it used that knowledge to blackmail citizens….
To an extent, the transparency characteristic of an open government should serve to mitigate that power dynamic. If the dealings of the government are available for all to see, theoretically with greater and greater frequency, as documents and the like shift from paper to digital formats, there is an inherent check on what it does. However, it is important to note that the government still requires some deal of secrecy to function. If all our strategies were out on the Internet, the U.S. would be vulnerable to attacks of all kinds from foreign agents. Furthermore, if everyone knew what the government was looking at, it would be easier to skirt around the law.
Already, there are some initiatives to establish a bit of openness in the government (c.f. data.gov), but as we know from events such as the Snowden leaks, there is still as vast amount of secrecy. It will be interesting to see how involved the populous will be in pushing the government towards a more open approach and by extension to what extent the government will actually reciprocate and be straightforward about their dealings.