VIEWPOINT: Transparency Mandates Accountability

While many are still reflecting on the results of last week’s election, one would be remiss to not reflect on one actor that played a large part in the outcome of the election: WikiLeaks. A group dedicated to releasing confidential documents, WikiLeaks released a series of documents this past year that damaged the Democratic Party and its nominee, Hillary Clinton. Even though WikiLeaks only targeted one particular party, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned his fellow colleagues in the Republican Party that “tomorrow, it could be us.”

Although many politicians fear the damage that WikiLeaks can do to their careers and parties, the work and existence of WikiLeaks is actually beneficial for normal citizens. The organization’s work reveals the inner workings of our political system, increasing transparency and forcing politicians to always be wary that their actions, and those of their parties, such that they are always held accountable.

One of the most influential WikiLeaks releases occurred on Oct. 31, when emails emerged entangling interim Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile in controversy over her apparent bias toward the Clinton campaign throughout the Democratic primaries. In an email from March, prior to a primary debate, Brazile told the Clinton campaign that an audience member would ask “what … will Hillary do as president to help the people of Flint?”

These emails revealed the cozy relationship between the supposedly neutral DNC and the Clinton campaign, but also confirmed many voters’ suspicions about their government. A 2015 NPR poll showed that in October 2015 only 19 percent of Americans trusted the government “always or most of the time,” down from over 75 percent in 1965.

WikiLeaks managed to damage one specific candidate’s campaign, yet it would be foolish to assume that corruption is more prevalent in our current political system than in other generations merely because it is more extensively covered in the news. What has changed, courtesy of WikiLeaks, is transparency. We must not take transparency for granted.

Research conducted at Goteborg University shows that increasing the amount of political information available is an effective method to combat corruption in government institutions. The logic behind this finding should be intuitive. Citizens are much more capable of understanding how actors might take advantage of the system if they have a wealth of data to explore and a free media to contextualize it. For the same reason, many non-governmental organizations such as Transparency International have advised that one of the keys to combating corruption in developing states is increasing governmental transparency.

Despite offering transparency, WikiLeaks also has its own dangers. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, suggested that he saw Clinton as a personal opponent during the campaign, and this motivated him to release more leaks from her campaign. Even so, the precedence of free flowing information will be beneficial to American democracy in the long term. Transparency is changing the game. Now, the risk of getting caught in questionable political relationships is higher than ever before.

Aspiring politicians have surely observed the dozens of leaked email scandals, documents and tapes in this election, and are taking note. Moving forward, corrupt or unacceptable behavior from anyone in the spotlight is likely to be uncovered if someone is committed to digging for it, and there is a strong chance someone is going to dig. In the future, risk-averse candidates will be less likely to undertake shady business and will be forced to limit their corrupt behavior. In President-elect Trump’s case, the digital spotlight will be on him for the next four years.

Jacob Witt is a freshman in the College.

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