John Wonderlich describes how the new cybersecurity bill, CISPA, or HR 3523, is terrible on transparency: it dismisses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The FOIA is, in many ways, the fundamental safeguard for public oversight of government’s activities. CISPA dismisses it entirely, for the core activities of the newly proposed powers under the bill.
If this level of disregard for public accountability exists througout the other provisions, then CISPA is a mess. Even if it isn’t, creating a whole new FOIA exemption for information that is poorly defined and doesn’t even exist yet is irresponsible, and should be opposed.
If you’re carelessly creating whole new exemptions to FOIA without hearings on the question, that suggests that the public interest isn’t being considered in this legislation. I suspect that (again) government officials have been at the table with industry, and (again) think that the interests of the public at large can be swept aside.
When public interest gets swept aside this isn’t just a familiar story about Washington; it tells us something about the nature of modern democracy: those responsible for serving the interests of the public do not see themselves as members of the public.
The people are an amorphous and somewhat impotent other who are treated as spectators to the workings of government and commerce. They are an occasional irritant, sometimes need to be shown patronizing gestures of deference, but most of the time can be regarded with as much seriousness as a flock of penguins might be viewed — though penguins tend to get more affectionate attention than ordinary people.
Why do government officials and corporate representatives have such a weak identification with the public? Mostly because they are so deeply identified with their work. Who they are and what they do appear to them to be one and the same.