Friday, February 20, 2009

Transparency Run Amok

FOX has an interesting story on their website discussing websites that have taken transparency disclosures and used them to essentially reveal private information, in ways that could end up being potentially harmful. For example, California recently passed the controversial Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state; there is now a site that mashes information about donations people made supporting Prop 8 with Google Maps to show who, living where, donated how much.

In Tennessee, meanwhile, there are sites showing every person who has a license to carry a concealed weapon, which has a pair of dangers - either harassment of those who choose to carry by anti-gun activists, or an easy mapping of people or areas where people typically do not have protection in their home by thieves, rapists, or the like.

Transparency exists to prevent people from wielding too much discretionary power, to avoid abuses, to make sure things are done properly. What is ironic is that it is now being used by people to do the exact opposite: To threaten, to intimidate, to scare people away from doing things or supporting issues they find important.

The answer is going to end up being laws which restrict the mining of private data or increased abuses by those who wield information such as the ones listed above improperly. It reminds me of this excellent piece (which I'll hopefully discuss more another time) noting how modern law makes us not free, but powerless. As rights trump responsibility, law has been forced to take an increasingly active (and irreversible) role in life - and this is not a tribute to our system, but a blow to our freedom and any reasonable way of life.