US government 'transparency' has gone too far

Dave Eggers' 2013 novel The Circle depicts a world where demands for "openness" annihilate privacy and personal autonomy, creating a dystopian nightmare. Public officials in the tale try to outdo one another in going "clear" by wearing body cameras and microphones every waking moment. For most readers, the book is far-fetched science fiction, but for those active in public life, Eggers' conception doesn't seem all that implausible.

It's hard to determine when too much of a good thing becomes truly too much. And the more laudable the goal, the harder it generally is to reel in the excess, because any suggested retrenchment is viewed as an abandonment of the goal itself. At the risk of being misconstrued, I venture the heretical thought that we have overshot in the pursuit of governmental "openness" and "transparency". There's no question that American government at all levels is better off for the open-door and open-record reforms of the past half-century. Knowing that the public is watching, public officials generally behave more responsibly in the conduct of their duties.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2018, with the headline 'Government 'transparency' has gone too far'. Print Edition | Subscribe