Form versus Content in Enforced Transparency

by Matt Goerzen and Raymond Johansen published on Dis Magazine

Transparency is seen as vital to any functioning democracy; in the United States, citizens enjoy limited powers to bring government documents into the public domain via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and some legal protection is granted to public interest-motivated leakers and whistleblowers. Generally, transparency is understood as a net positive for liberal democracy, and organizations like the Pirate Parties International centralize transparency in their re-imaginings of more radical democratic politics. Activist organizations like WikiLeaks and Anonymous also dedicate themselves to bringing information about the political elite into the public domain—often this aligns with leftist agendas, but recent events raise questions about just who ultimately benefits from the publicization of secretive information.

Democratic theorists like Darin Barney and Jodi Dean warn us that the availability of information alone does not guarantee politically salutary outcomes.1 The commitment to analyzing and deliberating on an endlessly accelerating flow of information can actually push the event of real political organizing towards an always–elusive horizon. It is a mistake, warns Barney, to reduce politics to publicity alone.2 Deliberation can be debilitating.

And the idea of “post-truth” politics further suggests that the form of information’s coming to light can shape its reception in an even more substantial manner than the content of that information itself. The status of the emails hacked from the DNC and the Clinton campaign—their bulk and the illicit event of their publication via salacious leaks, hacks, and criminal investigations—may have overshadowed the relative innocuity of much of their content, and the significance of a foreign government’s involvement in bringing them to light. When does an all-encompassing commitment to transparency as an end in-and-of-itself —as upheld by organizations like WikiLeaks—facilitate the advancement of still other powerful agendas and geopolitical machinations, themselves hidden from view?

Raymond Johansen sits on the board of Pirate Parties International and is an outspoken advocate of hacker exfiltration, or “enforced transparency.” Founded in 2005 by Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate Parties received a major boost on October 29 of this year, when an unprecedented number of the parties’ representatives were elected to office in Iceland’s national elections—an accomplishment spurned, in no small way, by information contained in the Panama Papers leaks, which prompted the nation’s elected leader to resign his office.

Matt Goerzen is an artist and researcher interested in the political effects of anonymity, critical forms of trolling, security cultures, and memetic warfare.

In the two weeks straddling the election, Goerzen asked Johansen a series of questions about the mechanisms of transparency at work in this emerging political arena.

To read the Interview Click Here: Form versus Content in Enforced Transparency