Recommended Reading: Harlan Yu and David Robinson on The New Ambiguity of “Open Government”

Last week, we had an engrossing discussion of Julie Cohen’s Configuring The Networked Self, which embraces three key principles for protecting the structural conditions of human flourishing, including transparency of networked architecture which routes, shapes, and determines the collection, use, and flow of information.  Harlan Yu of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy and David Robinson of the Yale Information Society Project have done important work puzzling through the question of transparency, and the related concerns of privacy and civil engagement, in “open government” efforts.  Their conclusion:

Separating technological from political “openness”—separating the ideal of adaptable data from that of transparent politics—will yield benefits for all sides. New technologies, cut free from the heavy political burdens they have recently been made to carry, will be free to assume their widely varied natural roles, spreading throughout government in nimble and unpredictable ways, and helping governments at every level pursue all kinds of objectives. The Internet will still help, where it can, to make regimes more transparent.

At the same time, a clearer focus on transparency will give political reformers, who will no longer be shoehorned together with technologists, more freedom to focus on the political questions that motivate them in the first place. From their perspective, technology will do what it always does when working well: fade into the background and make room for human concerns.

When I spoke at Princeton about my work on Technological Due Process, Robinson and Yu helped me puzzle through my privacy concerns about Government 2.0, which I then developed in “Fulfilling Government 2.0’s Promise with Robust Privacy Protections,” 78 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 822 (2010).  They are exciting thinkers, and their newest piece helps us appreciate and conceptualize calls for transparency and open government and the appropriate role technologists and technology can and should play.

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