The End of Secrecy
Humans as information processing organisms.
Examples of how electronic communications lead to
Prospects for reduced secrecy in government and
The Information Age. Humans are
several million years along in evolving to adapt to the self-generated
niches of human society. For example, humans are very well adapted to
the task of managing the subtleties of information exchanges in social
settings. It is likely that human brain evolution during the past
million years has been more heavily influenced by the social
environment than by the need to adapt to non-social environmental
changes like climate changes or competition with other species.
"Much of human niche construction is dominated by socially
learned knowledge and cultural inheritance, but the
and acquisition of this knowledge is itself dependent on pre-existing
information acquired through genetic evolution or complex ontogenetic
Niche Construction : The Neglected Process in Evolution
John Odling-Smee, Kevin N. Laland and Marcus W. Feldman
Children easily learn social
conventions that govern telling the truth, keeping secrets, and
constructing deceptions. Complex human societies institutionalize rules
that codify legal boundaries beyond which we are not to venture with
socially adaptive skills of deception.
There is a slippery slope from the extreme of complete openness down to
confidentiality to secrecy to deception with fraud at the bottom of the
scale. We honor those who deal with us honestly and are easily angered
to learn that we have been injured by deception.
----------The Slippery Slope----------------
by an attitude of ready accessibility
about one's actions or purposes); not
confidentiality- discretion in
keeping secret information ( limited secrecy)
secrecy- the condition of being
concealed or hidden
fraud- Deception deliberately
practiced with a view to gaining an
unlawful or unfair
advantage; artifice by which the right
or interest of another is
"Keeping the truth to one's self
is no lie." -Spock
Written Information Age. Written language is several thousand
years old. The idea that reading and writing are for everyone and that
democratic government can be built upon literacy is a relatively new
idea. It can be argued that only the technological advances of the
Industrial Revolution and the resulting social revolutions (the end of
slavery, equal rights for women, laws against child labor) have made it
possible to explore social systems that depend upon universal literacy.
The age of written information has seen the institutionalization of
secrecy as a right. We have laws that protect the rights of
governments and corporations to keep secrets. However, we also have
legal requirements that "the whole truth" be spoken in court and Freedom
of Information rules and Open Governance rules restrict the secrecy of
The Electronic Information Age.
Technologies for electronic data processing and the electronic storage
and transmission of information have amplified the importance of
information in human societies. We are quickly moving out of the era
during which governmental, educational, and corporate information could
be easily lost in filing cabinets. We now have the tools required to
make all of our "public" records truly public and readily accessible to
Momentum. We have inherited a
culture in which secrecy is the default method of dealing with
information. Entire industries have grown up around the tasks of
secrets and selling access to information. This social system of
seems as natural to most people as breathing. However, some
and information technologists have initiated a dialog aimed at asking
to what extent it might be possible explore new social systems with far
greater information openness than has been possible in the past. We can
refer to these new social systems as "open information social systems".
Niche creation often takes place in fringe environments where the
organisms that dominate existing niches cannot easily follow. What is
the natural environmental niche where experiments can begin with open
information social systems? While much of the internet is devoted to-
and funded by commercial activity that is still governed by the culture
of secrecy and the marketing of information resources, there is a
of the internet where open information social systems have begun to
(click image for larger view)
Medline was a fee-based system for accessing biomedical information
since it went online in the early 1970's.
With the arrival of the HTML internet protocol and web browsers in the
early 1990's, the time was ripe for easy access to biomedical
At that time, a search engine called Entrez was used with a genetic
sequence database distributed by CD-ROM to subscribers.
Gore helped to promote Entrz/PubMed, a government-funded,
internet-accessible database for free access to biomedical information.
PubMed was originally developed by the National Center for
Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Library of
Medicine, for scientists using gene sequence databases. Initially, only
Medline journal citations which included gene sequences were included
the database. Now PubMed includes all of Medline, the store house of
biomedical research articles. Before this open-information government
initiative, private companies restricted access to biomedical research
journal articles and made money selling access. While a few tech-savy
people in the government were able to make PubMed a viable government
initiative, it should be realized that it was the efforts of computer
geek genetics researchers that created the foundation for PubMed.
The process of making biomedical information available to everyone
continues with the creation of new electronic (internet) journals and
increasing availablity of free full text journal articles. The old
system of journal publishers selling access to information is being
replaced by a new system
through which the researchers use the internet to make their results
freely available to their peers.
The education process is also increasingly opening up as online
learning resources become available, for example, some textbooks are
by Brian Martin
Another example of information
liberation is the open source
software initiative. Traditionally, software companies kept their
code secret and did not invite users to work on the code and improve
it. As explained at www,opensource.org:
"The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can
read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software,
the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix
bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow
pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing."
SourceForge.net has a large
Open Source software development website which
provides free services to Open Source developers, It also has a large
repository of Open Source code and applications available on the
Internet. For example, phpMyAdmin is
an Open Source tool that provides a user-friendly interface
for the administration of MySQL databases over the Web.
OpenOffice.org is both an
open-source application and project. It is free. The product is a
multi-platform office productivity suite compatible with all major file
"Most information created or
collected by the government is not routinely disseminated to the
These are the unpublished records. Freedom of Information laws are a
tool to give the public access to this body of information. Freedom of
Information laws are necessary because government employees and public
officials often want to hold onto these records as though they are
state secrets. The culture of secrecy in government is not unlike the
culture of secrecy in many areas outside of government. People know
that information is related to power, and often they want to control
information, in order to enhance their own power."- Ralph Nader
Access to Government
Here are some examples of attempts to push governments towards
the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change
Are governments willing to work in the open? Will voters demand more
openness from politicians?
Are corporations willing to work in the open?
Before modern times, people were often at the mercy of local
businesses. Now, consumers can shop online and select vendors who
position themselves in particular consumer niches ("green", "natural
food", "no animal products", "non-gene modified", etc). Individuals are
increasingly called upon to make their own investment decisions (rather
than, say, relying on employer decisions for retirement fund
investment). Investors increasingly want to know that companies have
certain values and are not simply scams for shifting investor funds to
wealthy business owners. Increasingly, corporations must be open about
their operations in order to attract investors and customers. Openness
also provides a way for businesses to avoid being victimized by "bad
apple" employees who are willing to break the law.
Software companies are developing the means by which corporations can
openly manage their operations. Some software-oriented companies are leading the way towards a reality of an open corporation for which all business practices are open to publi view.
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We still exist (2004 when this document was first produced) within a social environment that has mementum
behind the idea that most government and economic activity should take
place in secret. I am interested in the idea that we may now have the
required technology for COMPLETE openness in government and business
activities. I am interested in experiments that can test this
possibility and push to continue developing information sharing
technologies that facilitate openness.
Example: a developing Robinsonian
Cooperative Corporation, Oceanbase
as information processing organisms.
of how electronic communications lead to reduced secrecy.
for reduced secrecy in government and corporations.