In the wake of the NSA-Eric Snowden leak, the BBC’s Moral Maze programme debated the virtue of government transparency and its limits.
Here is a description of the debate:
The 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon is widely credited with coining the phrase “knowledge is power”. If he was alive today he would surely have appreciated the irony of the government this week launching its consultation on transparency and open data while the news is full of stories about spying and under cover surveillance. The goal of “transparency” has become something of mantra across a wide section of our society. It is held up as a moral virtue; an unambiguously Good Thing that should be pursued at all costs. Vascular surgeons are the latest to have the “spotlight” of transparency shone upon them. The NHS is publishing league tables of their results and doctors who refuse to co-operate will be named and shamed. Transparency has become not just a descriptive term, but an ideology – something that should be actively strived for and is a fundamental human right that underpins democracy. But by investing so much moral capital in transparency have we done the opposite of what those who champion it wanted? Instead of a more trusting society, do we now automatically assume that what goes on behind closed doors is not to be trusted and always capable of being corrupted? Is the CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden a hero who’s exposed the scale of state surveillance on its citizens, or a traitor who has undermined our capacity to fight terrorism? In an age when digital data about every aspect of our life is so easy to generate, how much of a right do “they” have to know about us and how much of a right do we have to know about “them?” Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips, Anne McElvoy and Kenan Malik. Witnesses: David Leigh – The Guardian’s investigations editor until 2013, and professor of journalism at City University, London UK, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones – Former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Professor Gwythian Prins – Visiting professor of War Studies Buckingham University and member of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, Shami Chakrabarti – Director of Liberty.