Some people think journalism is about truth. Maybe it’s mostly about information. Once people have information, the truth can take care of itself. And, though you can certainly have information without truth, it’s very hard to determine what’s true and what’s not true without the proper information to do so.
For instance: Are the illusions of magicians “true”?
Magicians, of course, would like us to think so. And, in order to keep us from thinking otherwise, magicians are reluctant to reveal their information – their “secrets.”
Some magicians, however, are less reluctant than others.
When secrets are revealed, the truth becomes less mysterious, but not any less magical.
Currently, there are many circumstances in which we consider information bound by a sort of magician’s creed: rightfully private and best kept secret.
For instance, how much you make – your salary — is sometimes considered best kept secret. If you make too much, after all, you might become the target of your fellow workers’ envy. If you make too little, you might become embarrassed.
But, whoever is paying your salary has your salary information – as well as the salary information of your co-workers. And, with that information, your employer’s ability to negotiate salaries is vastly superior to your own. In cases like this one, who benefits most from information kept secret?
Like the salary example, there are many other circumstances in which we seem to prefer to keep information secret because we fear we might be embarrassed or targeted. But, in almost all those circumstances, revealing information is more likely to make things better than worse. The real problem, it seems, is not the information. The real problem is in those systems – of government, of laws, of businesses, and of societies – that, for their own self-serving reasons, penalize the revelation of information.
Are those penalties justified? Or is the information we continue to protect protected merely for the sake of a dwindling number of magicians who are otherwise unable make us believe that something false is actually something true?
Here’s what’s happening now: The Google Book Search project is being questioned over “privacy” concerns – not always by the public whose privacy is supposedly threatened, but by a relatively small cadre of lawyers who assume they know best. Copyright – and patent — laws are likewise being used to protect the public through forced restrictions on information distribution and use that have resulted, in one case, in a $1.9 million fine levied against a Minnesotan housewife who illegally downloaded music files. And, while our new President talks about a “free and open” internet, he also is inclined, like presidents before him, to use claims of “national security” to keep secrets.