When Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell published his book, ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ (in 1949), his work was largely considered dystopian and his theory that ‘Big Brother is watching over you,’ was discounted as a figment of the imagination.
Very few believed all those years ago that there would come a time when privacy would be less valuable than the paper on which it was written.
Or, as Vino Ramayah, Guest Speaker at this year’s Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture said, “We have all become naked before the Internet.”
The world has become a village of surveillance cameras, computerised monitors and digital software that watches every move that everyone takes- be it in a shopping mall or parking lot- everywhere in fact, except perhaps the confines of our homes.
But as Mr Ramayah said, the irony is that availability of more information may not equate to more transparency. Information asphyxia can result in obfuscations and information overload.
“It did not save us from corporate collapses such as Enron, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom, Baring’s, South Canterbury Finance, Bear Stearns and numerous other scandals. A close reading of South Canterbury Finance’s published financial statements and those of its associated companies prior to the collapse would have indicated to savvy investors that there was something badly wrong with the company. Yet who noticed, prior to the event? Certainly not the Government officials who recommended the Government guarantee!”
According to him among the factors that encourage transparency are (a) Strong democratic institutions (b) Media freedom (c) A strong and open political process (d) Rule of law and legislation which enables freedom of information and (e) Enforcement and digitisation.
As he mentioned, these alone do not guarantee transparency. The key issue is striking a balance between self-interest and responsibility to society at large.