Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:55 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:55 | SYDNEY

The future of secrecy


Sam Roggeveen


This post is part of the Unisys forum on the future of secrecy debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

5 March 2012 08:26

This post is part of the Unisys forum on the future of secrecy debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Starting today and for the next two weeks, The Interpreter will host an online discussion on the theme of government secrecy. This is a perennial topic of dispute in democratic societies — I think Max Weber had a bit to say on the subject, and I have in front of me a 1998 book by Daniel Patrick Moynihan which traces the American culture of secrecy back to World War I — but it is particularly urgent and fast-changing in our information age.

We're proud to have the support of Unisys for this forum, which will include a live event in Canberra on 16 March for invited guests from various parts of the Australian foreign policy and national security community.

This introductory post is intended just to lay down some suggested themes, but hopefully the discussion will take its own course. I have already lined up a few participants, but as always, we welcome your thoughts via blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org . I know it is difficult for our many readers in Canberra's national security bureaucracy to participate, but requests for anonymity will be respected. Yes, I acknowledge the irony of that statement, given the topic up for discussion, but it's the lesser of two evils.

With those preliminaries out of the way, let me suggest some themes and questions:

  • What is the cost of government secrecy, and what do citizens get in return?
  • Does secrecy help nations avert crises and strategic surprises, or does it play a role in bringing them about?
  • Is there a 'culture of secrecy' in government, and if so, what are the benefits and risks for national and international security?
  • Is it possible that the challenges and possibilities of 'big data' are so huge that debates about secrecy are becoming archaic?
  • Are current models of government secrecy viable in the information age and what does this mean for the Government 2.0 agenda? 
  • Should government take a new approach to secrecy in the age of WikiLeaks?

We're not going to cover all of these topics, and I certainly don't want WikiLeaks to dominate the discussion; we debated that topic extensively in 2010. But this week and next week, our contributors will have at it, and I hope you will join in too.