Open Government and Wikileaks: Is There a Connection?

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service suggests that open government can cause scandals not unlike Wikileaks. The report states that these releases ultimately are dangerous for those working in government as compared to the benefits of President Obama's open government initiative, stating "increased government transparency may prompt security and privacy concerns." The report, The Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative: Issues for Congress, outlines the upsides and downsides of open government and finds the downsides are compelling.

Although the datasets released to the public may be useful in many ways, it is unclear how some of them will increase the transparency of the operations and actions of the federal government.

Moreover, the report cites the Wikileaks release of classified data and notes that leaking may be a byproduct of open government efforts. It states that transparency efforts can in fact be very dangerous.

Congress may find that increased transparency and public attention make the federal government more susceptible to information leaks of sensitive materials... Some diplomats may now fear the information they write in such cables could be released to the public, and may, therefore, be "more cautious" about their contents.

The United States' chief diplomat sees it another way. In comments after a recent speech about Wikileaks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the case is more an issue of "theft."

"Fundamentally, the Wikileaks incident began with an act of theft," Clinton said. "Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase."

However, she did not endorse the notion that leaking is "sexy," as National Security Council official Roger Cressey called it at the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco. "Whether it is hacking from the inside or outside," Cressey said, "in this world [Wikileaks founder Julian Assange] is making leaking sexy."

Can these two sides coexist? The Wikileaks scandal has been a boon to those who seek greater access to information, but governments trying to advance their national interests may not be able to do so in the sunshine of transparency.