Ideals of Openness, transparency Vs confidentaility, secrecy

There is great effect of privacy / individual rights on true e-Government implementations. As always, the core goals of e-Governance initiatives are to bring about openness and transparency in governance. In many different ways global governments strive to be transparent and thus be more approachable and open in its dealings with citizens.

Individual rights such as privacy has great impact on e-Government systems usage. The Privacy Act of 1974 and its wide usage in interpreting privacy rights has always put US government in a very cautious situation to be extra careful when dealing with vast amounts of citizen data (personal, health etc) that is collected via e-Government systems. The more open and transparent the e-Government systems want to be, the more the systems are vulnerable to privacy threats (the article on creation of FEHBP database is a very recent example for this tensed situation). Private and confidential information about citizens such as personally identifiable information and health information need to be protected and should not be open to public. At the same this information need to be made available to the required individuals within 30 days of grant of request. Thus, the privacy issue is a double edged sword that has close contact with ideals of openness and transparency.

There are many issues surrounding protecting national security and there is sufficient information that is considered part of national defense and safety. Examples of VA issue when millions of VA employees records where leaked, cyber-warfare conducted by various groups that leads to constant hacking of national information structures and unauthenticated usage & exposure of national security related data is a grave threat to national security. The document describing National Protection Plan and its implications was of great interest to me (reading it in its entirety) as it highlights the tension that we go through as related to how open and transparent we should be at the same time protecting our national information infrastructures and systems from security threats. The protection plan is just a plan; federal government still has to arrive at clear action oriented plan as to control the information creation, manipulation, storage and exchange between government systems and agencies, between agencies and citizens and between government and citizens (and / or global citizens).

Obama is indeed targeting establishing open, transparent, participatory and collaborative e-Government setup, but is putting privacy, confidentiality, secrecy and security at risk – unless there is concrete action plans to protect privacy and security. This situation leads us to the truth that – ideals of openness and transparency, on the one hand, and confidentiality and secrecy on the other are not mutually exclusive.


1. U.S. Senate (Feb, 2000), Cyber Attacks: The National Protection Plan and its Privacy Implications, S. Hrg. 106-889, (Accessed 10/20/2010)
2. U.S. President, Open Government Initiative, (Accessed 10/20/2010)
3. Rosenberg, A. (March, 2010) “Employee health database could net major cost savings, OPM report says”, Government Executive, (Accessed 10/21/2010)
4. OMB (2006) Memorandum M-06-15, Safeguarding Personally Identifiable Information, (Accessed 10/21/2010)
5. Long, E. (10/05/2010) “FEHBP database raises privacy concerns”, nextgov, (Accessed 10/21/2010)
6. Federal Trade Commission (June 1998) Privacy Online: A Report to Congress, (Accessed 10/21/2010)
7. Department of Justice (2010), Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974, (Accessed 10/21/2010)