Leaks and Open Government


Some recent discussions of WikiLeaks have labeled information leaks as the silver bullet in creating a more transparent government. There certainly have been times when leaks have had profound effects on how the government operates, and this is among them (the Pentagon Papers, Mark Felt a.k.a. Deep Throat, and Thomas Lawson also come to mind). It is, however, shortsighted to conceive of leaks as a replacement to the systematic requirements for openness that are essential to our democracy. Leaks are a supplement to transparency; not the foundation for it.

For that reason, Sunlight has focused on building tools and databases of influence data; pressuring the government to adopt policies for transparency; investigating political influence; and cultivating fundamental, systemic, and cultural changes by both citizens and government officials. And while we have from time to time built projects out of non-public information — accepting anonymously submitted invitations to political fundraisers to build our PoliticalPartyTime.org site, as well as supporting OpenCRS.com, which makes Congressional Research Service reports available to the public for free — the core of our work is to create a government whose default is to be meaningfully transparent online, in real time, so that our government’s operations and influences are available to the public.

Information leaks can be a powerful tool for openness, but they are just a single tool among many.