This post is a liveblog of a panel at Google’s Liberty at 2010 conference in Budapest, September 22, 2010.
Calling this debate the “elephant in the room,” moderator Monroe Price of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania introduces the panel.
The first speaker, Smari McCarthy of Digital Freedoms Society (Iceland), notes that this is a double-edged sword: The security of the state and the security of the people of the state. Conflating these implies a common interest, but McCarthy thinks we need to separate the two. He believes that thinking about security of the people can increase security of the state.
Respondent Michael Semple of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard notes the example of Wikileaks as a talking point.
McCarthy notes that “the state chooses its own rules”, and that those often reflect the interests of individuals working for the state, rather than the desires of the people. He explains that we need to make the test (for what constitutes a security concern) more open.
Heather Brooke, a freedom of information activist in the UK, is asked how she deals with the question of finding a proper limit.
Brooke states that the key is whether or not there is actual harm, as opposed to speculative harm. She’s been working on a 5-year campaign for the UK parliament to disclose their expenses. Using freedom of information requests, she’s taken it to the high court in London. She explains that politicians gave two reasons for not disclosing info: privacy and national security. Leaving aside privacy, she notes that she had asked for MPs’ second addresses, believing that there were scams going on (houses used for non-governmental officials etc). She believed that having access to those addresses would allow her to investigate, but the government felt that it was a national security issue.
“The people defining national security are the same who have the most to gain by keeping it secret,” Brooke says, “there’s an incentive for those people to claim ‘national security’ to prevent embarrassment…we need an outside body without a vested interest to determine who is being protected by these rules.”