Is WikiLeaks a New Chapter in Transparency History?

24 May 2011

What’s new about the WikiLeaks phenomenon is that retribution is difficult, the sheer quantities of information released, and the potential for searches of the disclosed materials, according to Christopher Hood, the Gladstone Professor of Government and Fellow at All Souls, Oxford, U.K., and the author of a book titled “Transparency: the Key to Better Governance?”

Hood, the keynote speaker May 19 at the 1st Global Conference on Transparency Research at Rutgers University-Newark, said these qualities merit a “qualified yes” answer to the question of whether WikiLeaks is a radically new chapter in the history of transparency.  (See overall report in

WikiLeaks operates through direct action, publishes information that is officially secret and is rooted in a rejection of orthodox considerations of privacy, Hood observed. 

What’s not new, he commented, is Wikileaks’ connection with traditional whistle-blowing and leaking.  Neither new is a motivating radical egalitarian world view, the ethical issues or the collateral damage consequences, he said. 

Hood said that WikiLeaks and similar organizations tend to be “internally precarious,” and are not entirely protected from lawsuits. They are subject to counterattacks on their economic foundation and challenges to their computer security. Such vulnerabilities and limitations are likely to remain, he said. 

If government and corporations are unable to fully control disclosure through the use of various computer rotection strategies, he said, they are likely “to invest more resources into high-levelspin.” 

The WikiLeaks trend “seems unlikely to me to be just a passing phase,” according to Hood, saying that there doesn’t seem to much to stop the replication of the WikiLeaks model.

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