The Shortcomings of Transparency for Democracy

Paper by Michael Schudson: “Transparency” has become a widely recognized, even taken for granted, value in contemporary democracies, but this has been true only since the 1970s. For all of the obvious virtues of transparency for democracy, they have not always been recognized or they have been recognized, as in the U.S. Freedom of Information Act of 1966, with significant qualifications. This essay catalogs important shortcomings of transparency for democracy, as when it clashes with national security, personal privacy, and the importance of maintaining the capacity of government officials to talk frankly with one another without fear that half-formulated ideas, thoughts, and proposals will become public. And when government information becomes public, that does not make it equally available to all—publicity is not in itself democratic, as public information (as in open legislative committee hearings) is more readily accessed by empowered groups with lobbyists able to attend and monitor the provision of the information. Transparency is an element in democratic government, but it is by no means a perfect emblem of democracy….(More)”.