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The Transparent Society

Unlike freedom of speech, the right to privacy is not clearly defined in the Constitution. Our ideas about privacy depend primarily on whose privacy we are talking about. Most people expect a right to a certain level of privacy [1], yet these same people are equally adamant about openness and accountibility of others--corporations and governments, for instance. David Brin, in his book, The Transparent Society, addresses this issue thoughtfully. Brin's thesis, in a nutshell, is that by shining light on ALL activities--e.g., by installing video cameras inside police stations to complement those on our highways--we can achieve a mutual, pervasive openness that will bring a greater level of safety and freedom to all.

This idea of transparency was first introduced to me in Neale Donald Walsch's book, Conversations with God: Book 2. God suggests to Walsch that a key feature of advanced civilizations is their level of transparency. In a transparent society, there are no secrets. Operating at this level of integrity expands the creative power of the individual and the collective--and in fact, blurs the line between the two. This level of exposure and intimacy is frightening to most everyone at first blush. I feel that the issues it raises are those that most need healing if we are to evolve to the next level of trust, openness and cooperation that will build a new millennium of peace.

[1] When DoubleClick, Inc. announced plans to link web surfing data (previously considered anonymous and aggregated) to a database of 80 million names and addresses consumers were outraged. This outrage was so great that DoubleClick is now named in several lawsuits and Federal Trade Commission has launched an informal investigation of its practices. Numerous grassroots web sites have also published instructions on how to avoid being tracked by DoubleClick and other ad servers. DoubleClick has responded by pledging to hold off on its data-merging plans until "there is agreement between government and industry on privacy standards". (Interestingly, when I published a link to one of these sites in a forum hosted by ZDNet my link was deleted from the post, censored.)

Brin would point out that this particular debate can be clearly reframed in a transparent society. If DoubleClick wishes to track our movements and sell the information, then we should have complete access to the data being collected and the price at which it is selling, and the profit margins on its sale. Interestingly, if we all published our web surfing history to a public site, then DoubleClick's business model would be severely compromised, once the information is public knowledge, then DoubleClick's market advantage disappears.

Book review by Tony Cecala, Ph.D.