Truth, transparency and consequences

Truth is said to be a double edged sword. Yet truth is only a problem if one is trying to hide something. The Wikileaks saga shows how difficult is has become to keep secrets in our hyperconnected world.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell

Amusingly I noted a newspaper article announcing that governments around Australia are planning to ban access to web based email services like Hotmail and Gmail:

Bureaucrats could also use unmonitored emails to leak sensitive documents. “The recent WikiLeaks release of government electronic information has demonstrated the importance of maintaining appropriate protective security frameworks and the risks of failing to adequately protect electronic information,” the report said
Source: Public servants face web bans to minimise risk of password cracking

I was amused because only yesterday I noticed that you can buy a “compact 32GB USB flash drive with 2 year warranty” for $65 at JB Hi Fi.

Blocking all the potential sources of leaks is getting rather difficult in this hyperconnected and wireless world.

These attempts to block all potential leakages of data are ultimately doomed to failure. If someone wants to leak then it will happen. Even now that we have the example of what bad things might happen – in the person of the unfortunate Bradley Manning, who is apparently being treated inhumanely in custody of the US military – there are some people who will put themselves on the line to get the truth out. For some people negative personal consequences are a price they’re willing to pay to share their truth.

Also we need to acknowledge that most of our important business information walks out the door every night in the heads of our people.

But an important question for all organisations to ask is how many of the things we keep secret really need to be secret? What would happen if we were transparent about some business information?

Salaries is one area that is subject to secrecy in many organisations. What would happen if you simply published the list? It already happens if you work for the government – it gets published in the Government Gazette – and the sky does not fall. What other things can we be more transparent about?

Obviously not everything a company does can be public. But making more rather than less of what we do secret might just make it easier to keep our more important secrets. Perhaps that is the contradiction of openness versus secrecy? Less is more.

In any case the digital genie is out of the bottle and the technology to liberate information is in everyone’s pocket. We need different solutions to locking things down and making people’s jobs more difficult. New solutions for a new age. I wonder what they will be?

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4 comments

  1. Iggy says:

    Can keeping certain pieces of information secret be contextual?

    I don’t think governments should reveal the location of their soldiers in conflicts that would potentially endanger their lives. Corporates shouldn’t have to tell the public the whereabouts of data centres that contain their sensitive business information. I don’t need to know if someone is planning a surprise birthday party for me.

    Sure – if each of these items “leak”, there are consequences that need to be dealt with ranging from spoiling a surprise to being opened up to a terrorist attack.

    Leak prevention should be assessed based on level and impact of risk and ultimately, context.

    Great post, Kate!

    Iggy

  2. Gavin says:

    Kate, a plethora of thoughts came out of that post.
    Just as “banning” things or putting fences around properties often makes people more curious, so the same with security – informational or otherwise.
    The nature of society is to crave openness, but we also retreat to the secure comforts offered by “closed”.
    It’s striking a balance which is hard.
    In the example of your post, some trust would help with that balance. It would remove the need for barriers preventing most from doing their job yet create an environment where fewer are tempted to break that trust.
    There will always be exceptions, but isn’t that just life?
    The sooner those “in control” learn to accept that, the sooner these issues dissipate.
    Gavin

  3. charlie says:

    knowledge is power, right? behind closed doors means I can protect my image, right?

    how often do we fail because we didnt have all the information? how often does the world come tumbling in because we havent sought help with what is really going on?

    information provides freedom and choice and the ability to continue knowing all facts.

    wise blog. hope more people listen, read and act.
    xc

  4. Eventually, all information will be free, and possibly useless. It’s wisdom that cannot be readily leaked. Wisdom is almost impossible to transfer and thus will be protected from theft forever.