Open Government and Other Myths of the Information Age

“The revolution evaporates, and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy. The chains of tormented mankind are made out of red tape.” Franz Kafka [Conversations with Kafka, Gustav Janouch, 1971]

Asking the government to be less bureaucratic is like asking a fish to be less wet. Yet, with the Obama administration’s 2009 promises to be more transparent (that is, less secretive) in its operations than its predecessors, many Americans believed that big changes were afoot. As the controversy over disclosures made through WikiLeaks has taught us, however, the nature of government — no matter who’s at the helm — appears to be conducive to obfuscation and red tape as a way to excuse and, perhaps, support its own inadequacies. The concept of an open government seems to ring true to the core of America’s foundation, but the reality is far removed from any practical enforcement of information not vitally essential to national security being as free as it could — and should — be.

Open Government and Other Myths of the Information Age
Photo by freeflyer09

In his article WikiLeaks and the Urge to Classify [The Net Effect, Index on Censorship, March 2011], The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s David Sobel points out that a political environment failing to be open sets itself up for others to force transparency by revealing classified information to the public — often by illegal means. Sobel writes: “There is no question that the security classification system is (to put it charitably) badly broken and that a vast amount of important, but innocuous, information is improperly withheld.” He goes on to say that “overuse of the ‘secret’ stamp can be counter-productive and actually weaken the protection of truly confidential information.” In other words, overvaluing mundane information and painting it with the brush of top secrecy is as good as crying “wolf!” to the masses. And while many of the masses will be placated by this smothering deluge of data with a vague notion that the government’s doing “what it must” to keep our country safe, some among them will take the challenge to rummage through this jungle of so-called top secrets and find out what really qualifies. In the ensuing search, it’s not hard to see how matters of true security come to light and become exposed; the so-called open government finds itself in a difficult position as it strives to rebox Pandora’s secrets in a way that doesn’t betray its obvious lack of transparency.

The Obama administration’s pledge to be more transparent is betrayed even further when different departments of this same government say one thing and then do another very contradictory thing. In a crowded room, you could spot the poor administration spokesperson whose job it would be to explain such foibles by the impressive size of his or her backpedaling muscles — except that official policy seems to be downplaying these kinds of events as if they never happened, so explanations are rarely forthcoming. A truly open government would seek a system of disclosure and feedback from its constituents instead of duplicitously trying to create an Internet kill switch while wagging a scolding finger at other governments for similarly repressive (but more successful) ambitions. In The Net Effect, Evgeny Morozov sums it up nicely: “When some representatives of the US government seek to remake the Internet to make it easier to spy on its users, while others complain about similar impulses in China or Iran, this makes the US government look extremely hypocritical.”

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Our resident "Bob" (pictured here through the lens of photographer Jason DeFillippo) is in love with a woman who talks to animals. He has a fondness for belting out songs about seafaring and whiskey (arguably inappropriate in most social situations). He's arm-wrestled robots and won. He was born in a lighthouse on the storm-tossed shores of an island that has since been washed away and forgotten, so he's technically a citizen of nowhere. He's never killed in anger. He once underwent therapy for having an alien in his face, but he assures us that he's now feeling "much better." Fogarty also claims that he was once marooned along a tiny archipelago and survived for months using only his wits and a machete, but we find that a little hard to believe.


  1. The Registry Editor does have a Find tool that you can use to search for a subkey or value.

  2. wow the government sucks. who knew?

  3. Hah! Indeed, Will. It does turn out to be a shocker.

  4. Eric T. says:

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  5. Julian Perry says:

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  6. shanselman says:

    But if the machines are on the same LAN then just enable LAN sync and the other computers don’t matter.

  7. It’s not the local synching that’s a problem so much as it is receiving massive amounts of data from the other people who help with videos (via Dropbox). šŸ˜‰

  8. TomB says:

    Doesn’t the bandwidth limit refer to copyrighted video? Also, if you provided your credentials to Comcast, isn’t it more than likely they would give you a pass?

  9. A NAS works in some cases but not others because I work from two primary locations. I also travel frequently enough that I don’t have the luxury of getting things pushed back to a NAS from a hotel or other remote location. It’s far easier to simply use Dropbox or even an online backup solution like IDrive.

  10. Chris’s comment is partly correct and I also have the issue (mentioned above in the post) that I’m not always on the same LAN.

  11. Comcast’s limitation are insane, I remember when it first came out that there CIO or whatever said noone would ever hit it… Well what was it 20% of all internet bandwidth was netflixs? I am sorry streaming media, SD or HD takes up a ton of BW, as does PC updates, and any other downloads. If I am paying $60-100 a month for a service, it better be unlimited. If someone gets a DCMA(sp) notice, then deal with that, don’t retroactively target everyone. Comcast will start telling people to get business accounts I am sure.

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