The Information State

MOSCOW – The new American administration of Barack Obama is planning to appoint a chief technology officer, following the lead of most large corporations nowadays. Should other countries have one, too?

Rather than slavishly copy the United States, I think most countries should have a chief information officer – someone who thinks about information as an agent of change, not just as an agent of efficiency. The free flow of information constrains official power and gives individuals the power to act for themselves. It is the essence of a free market, and it should also be the essence of a free democracy. People should know what their officials are doing, what their government’s policies cost, who pays for them, and who benefits.

Of course, such a government CIO couldn’t make all that happen alone. But he or she could encourage it – everywhere information is used and everywhere it’s hidden. 

The CIO wouldn’t have policymaking authority per se , but he or she should sit high in the government – ideally with little bureaucratic encumbrance. The CIO would not have a fiefdom and would not compete for power or turf with other senior officials, but would simply remind the president or other people of the role of information every time it was appropriate.