Roberts, a law professor at Suffolk University, tamps down any excited appraisal of WikiLeaks’ impact with an academic’s long view. The leaks weren’t quite as substantial as many perceived them to be, he argues in the International Review of Administrative Sciences, and hardly had the impact their leakers hoped they would. The very logic behind the concept of “radical transparency,” Roberts writes, suffers from several misguided premises.
As a result, the WikiLeaks experiment created more an illusion of transparency than the real thing, he argues — and this illusion may lull us into thinking the hard work of holding governments accountable has a quick technological fix.
“That basic idea — leak, publish and wait for outrage — is an old idea,” Roberts said this week. “The premise of this recent episode was that new technologies were basically supercharging the process. It was easier to leak, easier to publish, and by implication, more likely to produce substantial policy change.”
But in the grand scheme of things, the scope of these leaks was perhaps not that much larger than similar breaches in the pre-Internet, or pre-Julian Assange, age. Plus, the size of a leak isn’t a perfect indicator of its value.