Monday, 29 November 2010

Secrecy is inevitable and probably necessary


Secrecy is necessary.

I don’t say this as some form of defence for authoritarian government, for the gagging of journalists or to defend “national security”. These are spurious explanations for secrecy.

No, we need secrecy. And shall have that secrecy.

To illustrate, let me tell you a story about a former colleague, now an MP. Whenever there was something he wanted to say – a discussion needed – he would suggest we went for a walk. At the time, I assumed that the reason was to allow us a talk and smoke – but now I realise that the point was to avoid being overheard and to ensure that anything said was unattributable. Secrecy was protected since only the two of us knew what was said and, as importantly, every thing said was deniable. I know a great deal about that former colleague.

The theft of diplomatic cables and their transfer to a third party has been lauded by some as a kind of ultimate freedom of information success. Yet if we stop and think for a minute or two, we’ll realise that the result of these ‘leaks’ – the consequence of insecure systems – will be to end the documentation of opinion and analysis. This creates a less transparent, riskier and more corruptible policy and decision-making process. We have seen the degree to which our masters are trustworthy and having a yet more opaque system would act only to increase the opportunity for self-interest and greed to dominate choices made by politicians, civil servants and other public servants.

You may revel in this new age of open-ness – where theft is excusable because of some cod interpretation of public interest. But we will all pay for it since the response of governments will be to make undocumented decisions wherever possible. We will become a land governed even more by tittle-tattle, back-stabbing and slander rather than an more open, more democratic society.


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