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The Transparency Conspiracy

SOFIA – One of the most troubling outcomes of the ongoing financial crisis has been a collapse of trust in democratic institutions and politicians. Indeed, in 2012, the global public-relations firm Edelman’s “Trust Barometer” survey registered the biggest-ever decline when it comes to government. Can greater “transparency” – the new political mantra of civic activists and an increasing number of democratic governments – reverse this trend?

The hope is that a combination of new technologies, publicly accessible data, and renewed civic engagement can help people control their representatives more effectively. But the idea that transparency will restore public trust in democracy rests on several problematic assumptions, primarily the belief that “if only people knew,” everything would be different.