Transparency vs. Responsible Journalism

Annie Duke, the professional poker player and Rock Paper Scissors tournament winner, has a new internet show. A recent episode included appearances by Rafe Furst and Jason Calacanis, discussing privacy and responsible journalism in the face of the recent WikiLeaks scandals. Furst framed the debate in game-theoretic terms, arguing that transparency is a good thing for society and “leads to good behavior.” Pointing out that we live in a world of imperfect information, Furst said, “In the current context, when there is imperfect information, an imbalance of information is what creates: A. power …. and B. it sort of creates the conditions under which acts can be viewed as either good or bad, responsible/irresponsible.” [%comments]

Ian Kemmish

If transparency were all it's cracked up to be, Mr Assange wouldn't try to give false addresses to judges and his disciples wouldn't hide behind a mask of anonymity. If they themselves don't believe in it and don't practice it, why should anyone else?

Eric M. Jones

I suppose there are secrets, but I have never heard of one that would bear keeping for long. The notion that the government has any that they must keep from me seems infantile. They work for me, not the other way around. At least it was designed to be that way. Hah!

Secrets beget secrets. Soon there are whole buildings full of them and someone is hauling them out in trash bags.

When I voice that opinion in conversation someone usually brings up the need to keep secret my PIN number and bank account information.

My recent adventure with online CC theft blew up that argument where my bank happily gave Western Union $1000 of my money to send to "someone at someplace" and they don't owe me any explanation. It's SECRET! Six or seven other companies were happy to steal my money and use it and they owe me nothing because it's a secret. So what is my bank account secrecy worth? The police protect the criminals too. The cops won't tell me who stole the money.

My father had a security clearance for decades and said he never learned anything worth the secrecy.

But the A-bomb must be kept secret!....but there are millions of disenchanted people who would build one for you if you had the material.

So how do I send Wikileaks a donation without getting on a secret government watch-list?



WikiLeaks is the best journalistic resource since the creation of TOR.


Ian's comment reminds me of today's xkcd. Wikileaks should leak the name and address of everyone involved in Anonomous's DDOS attack on Mastercard and paypal.


@Ian Kemmish - Transparency is not related in any way to Assange giving false information - if he's giving false information, it's because he's being persecuted for being the messenger. If he wasn't about to be shipped off to a torture regime in the US, he might not be trying to avoid being shipped there, hence he's giving false information.

Mike B

Radical transparency will always be a prisoner's dilemma. Those that become radically transparent will be at an extreme disadvantage to those that do not. The killer is that with secrecy there is no way to know how forthright someone is being. They can simply lie or deceive and when competing with honestly transparent actors they will have a distinct advantage. Yes Wikileaks can push for radical transparency, but they will only hinder those organizations that are less adapt at keeping secrets and empower those that are. Wikileaks is like an antibiotic. If overused the result is a strain of super-bugs that can keep information secret through radical state action.


I think most of us understand that there are valid reasons for secrecy and privacy. Alas, the government likes to use "classified" to hide its mistakes, to not avoid political heat, to enable itself to continue to do the wrong thing.

Those are the sort of things that OUGHT to be exposed.

No president wants to be smeared with "cut and run"--which is exactly what will happen, no matter how bad our situation is. If Bush had left early, the Democrats would have accused him of making a mess and then leaving before cleaning up. If Obama does it, the Republicans will accuse him of losing his nerve, etc.

The point is that neither party cares more deeply about American lives than they do about their party's interests.

There was a time (it ended with WWII) when we fought wars until someone abjectly surrendered. From then on, however, we have to end wars differently, with negotiated "settlements" and the such.

This is made impossible with the war on terror because there is no "government" in charge that can surrender. And so we keep on fighting...and dying. At some point, you just have to quarantine the place and let them kill themselves off inside the circle...or kill them when they come out.

We can afford to use secrecy to delay and stall what needs to be done when the stakes are not so high. But when solider and CHILDREN are dying, we should applaud those who will risk so much in order to reveal the far too slow progress we have made ten years on.

Why shouldn't Iran know that Arabia hates them? It might cause a war? Just let the chips fall where they may, since where they are falling now is pointless.


Camp Freddie

Assange hasn't given false info to judges. 'False address info' was the excuse used to freeze his Swiss bank account. Whether Assange lied or just forgot to tell his bank that he moved house is unknown.

One problem with secrecy is that it becomes almost impossible when information is electronic and needs to be shared (i.e. the SIPRNET database). In order to impose secrecy, you pay large admin, enforcement and opportunity costs compared to making the information free. In many cases it costs more to keep a secret than the 'benefit' you gain from exploiting the secret.

The prisoners dilema is a good point though, and its why we'll never see radically transparent systems.


Anyone else see the irony in discussing the merits of transparency with a professional poker player?

Rafe Furst

Mike B: For a Prisoner's Dilemma to exist the following inequality must hold:

T > R > P > S
(where "T stands for Temptation to defect, R for Reward for mutual cooperation, P for Punishment for mutual defection and S for Sucker's payoff."'s_dilemma)

In a world dominated by privacy and privacy rights (i.e. we all to cooperate keep our secrets secret), the reward for "defecting" (i.e. me telling your secret) is low compared to the punishment I will receive. The equilibrium is that privacy is maintained (as long as leaking cannot be done anonymously, which decouples punishment from the action). Thus there is no dilemma if what we (the players) value is privacy. If we value transparency, then the PD inequality holds. In this case "we" means society.

But in a world where transparency is the norm, the opposite is true. In other words, if we value transparency more than privacy there's no dilemma, and if we value privacy more than transparency then there is a dilemma.

I argued on the show that that there are more benefits to society and individuals (and corporations and governments) to a transparency norm than a privacy norm. Furthermore, it's fortunate that this is the case because privacy will be harder and harder to maintain as technology and interconnectedness proliferate, and at some point we will have a de facto transparent society. And once that tipping point is reached, it self-reinforces and becomes the Nash equilibrium.

Bigger picture what I am arguing is as follows. The reason we value privacy so much (and have such strong visceral reactions whenever there is talk about radical transparency) has to do with the de facto privacy rights and privacy milieu modern societies have emerged from, due to the very fact that gaining information without the internet was hard. Someone who didn't value privacy would be punished, assuming they acted on those values.

In a society where gaining information is easy for everyone and privacy is hard to maintain, you'd expect by my reasoning to see the culture shift towards valuing transparency more than privacy. And here's a falsifiable prediction that would prove my point: randomly poll people about how strongly they agree with this statement "privacy is a fundamental human right"; I predict you will find that the the answer directly correlates with how much time they spend on the internet or are otherwise "connected" via mobile devices.