Radio Berkman 145: The Future of Transparency and How to Stop It (Adventures in Anonymity Part II)

March 4th, 2010

3711859809_6202d809c9_oTransparency challenges the very existence of the Rule of Law.

That is the very provocative thesis of today’s guest, who suggests that there is a tragedy behind the web’s powerful lubricative effect on the flow of information. Data about your address, purchases, academic performance, travel itineraries, likes and dislikes are all quite simple to track down these days at little or no cost. We often give up this information voluntarily, in the interests of cultural participation, or obliviously when we simply skip a privacy notice.

And where it once took teams of archivists and researchers to dig up and collate dirt on people and institutions, today’s powerful automated online databases wield personal data over their subjects almost tyrannically, voiding the engineered obscurity of the past, and rendering anonymity obsolete.

Joel Reidenberg is the academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University. We sat down with him to ask how we could re-engineer the web to fight transparency’s most dangerous effects.

or download
…also in Ogg!

Reference Section:
Joel Reidenberg’s recent talk on this topic
John Palfrey’s notes from the talk
Adventures in Anonymity, Part I

CC Music this week:
Stefsax: “I Like it Like That (s.thaens)”
State Shirt: “Computer”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user watchcaddy

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Radio Berkman 145: The Transparent Citizen (Adventures in Anonymity Part 2)

How careful would you be if you knew someone was listening to your public conversations, and using that information for their own purposes?

That’s essentially what is happening in any of your movements online. Your chatter on Twitter and Facebook – it’s a lunchroom conversation etched in stone.

And it goes deeper these days. A ton of data – that was previously obscure – is now free floating – your address and utility records, your diaries and photos, travel itineraries and purchases. Any information you’ve entered into a webform or text box – heck, any information that someone else publishes about you – can be shared, sold, subpoenaed, and repurposed for any number of uses. From the merely annoying and creepy, in the case of marketing – to a threat to your wellbeing, in the case of a lawsuit or identity theft.

In the digital age the database is a powerful weapon for transparency, but its ease of use is also a tyrannical force against any desire you might have to remain anonymous.

Joel R. Reidenberg is the academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University. He believes that transparency can be a threat to the public good, and suggests that we try to re-engineer some obscurity back into our digital life. We sat down with him to find out how.



Joel Reidenberg is the academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University. You can find links to more info on him from our blog at

Today’s episode was produced by me, Daniel Dennis Jones, with the help of the Law Lab, at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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