Seriously? Transparency Isn’t Our Strong Suit

From Canadian copyright expert Michael Geist:

[United States Trade Representative] Ambassador Ron Kirk has responded to a letter signed by dozens of legal academics (I signed on) expressing concern with the lack of transparency associated with the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Kirk says he is “strongly offended by the assertion that our process has been non-transparent and lacked public participation.”

Ah, you have to love the rhetoric. A couple of years ago, President Obama refused to make public the ACTA antipiracy legislation that he was working out with European countries, citing national security interests. People found out about it only through leaks. The SOPA/PIPA legislation made it to the floors of the House and Senate without the public knowing about it. When people found out, the only possible way to do “public commment” was a massive online campaign, including taking sites like Wikipedia dark in protest. The CISPA legislation was passed by the house last month in a rush before anyone had a chance to contact their representatives. On the face of it, these seem to support the plain sense meanings of both “non-transparent” and “lacking in public participation”.

Did you know that the United States is trying to work some of the citizen-rejected material from SOPA into treaties? I didn’t think so.

But here’s the thing: in the American system, we have defined the terms “transparency” and “public participation” in pretty specific ways. (See, for instance, the electoral collage.) Transparency is fulfilled in lawmaking and treaty writing by telling congress and sentate. If you want to know more, look it up in Congressional Record or watch C-SPAN. Public participation is fulfilled by having the congress and sentate vote. This how the US works, folks. And given the sheer volume of work that has to get done, it should be no surprise. Pretending that it is otherwise for legislation seems to me a bit naive. But it still leaves us with a system that is neither transparent nor participatory in any transparent or meaningful sense of those words.

Arguing that it should be otherwise is great (and right), but we have to figure out how to get it done. The fact that corporations have been declared by the Supreme Court to be persons with respect to free speech has made it harder by increasing the amount of money you need to have in order to get your “public participation” done. Representatives tend to meet with the donating public more often than the non-paying donating. If congress was to change this, it would likely go a long way toward changing the climate of mistrust in government that we have these days.

That’s why we need journalists and news outlets—people who geet paid to spend all their time making sure the public is able to knows what it needs to know. We can’t be good citizens who make good decisions about governance without information.

Oh yeah, back to the original point: feinging insult is not a valid argumentation style in the adult world.

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