WikiLeaks, State Secrets, and Trust in Government

When WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department memos, the world was forced to consider, How much do we trust our governments?

WikiLeaks, a whistleblowing website, says “We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government, and stronger democracies. All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information.” In the past, WikiLeaks had published information on pollution dumping off the coast of Kenya, a video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed twelve people, including two Reuter’s journalists, protocol in Guantanamo Bay, and e-mails from Sarah Palin’s personal account. The more recent classified documents and diplomatic cables were published in coordination with major newspapers, such as Le Monde, El Pais, Der Speigel, and The Guardian (who shared with the New York Times).
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How Shall We Understand the Public Interest?

By Aditya Dev Sood

Panchayat meeting on Village Sanitation in Khera village, Budaun District, UP

At the Design Public Conclave, we are concerned to explore how Innovation serves or is related to the Public Interest. In order to address that large question, however, we must first consider what we might mean by this high-minded term. And to do, we first ask, what is the Public?

On account our Socialist past, and our nearly extinct figuration as a ‘developing’ society, one still commonly encounters references to the ‘sectors of society,’ organized as (i) the Government (ii) the Public Sector (iii) the Social Sector and (iv) the Private Sector. Whereas, prior to liberalization (i) and (ii) were seen to operate more or less indistinguishably from one another, their roles now appear to be diverging, with the role of Government having to do more and more with the creation and regulation of markets, while the Public Sector is either privatized or else outsources all its core functions and operations to the Private Sector.

While representatives of each of these sectors may operate in ways which it claims are in the Public Interest, the ways in which they make these claims are varied. Moreover, in each case, it is difficult for anyone to articulate how the interests of the particular bureaucracy or organizational or financial-communications network is actually aligned with the putative Public Good. The collective interests of society, when described as the vector sum of all the diversely oriented forces operating upon and within it appears as a static quantity, which can easily be reduced — through corruption, inefficiency, venality, cupidity, and the concomitant destruction of value — but which cannot easily be increased except in so far as a functioning service-providing entity continues to operate with its own enlightened self-interest in mind. Thus do we once again derive, through a metaphor of vector integration, Adam Smith’s famous Invisible Hand, whereby private ambitions are channeled towards the larger aims of society.

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