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Why We Should Welcome Wikileaks

December 20, 2010

My parents always taught me that if there is nothing to hide, then there is no need for secrecy.

And in fact, the great thing about the Wikileaks grand exposee of the United States is that … there really isn’t much to hide! No great conspiracy. No sustantive double-talk. In fact, it seems the US – and in particular its foreign policy – is run by a fairly high-principled set of people.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that so many US citizens would like the Wikileaks founder to be caught and punished. For what? For showing that their country is one they should be proud of? Are they perhaps disappointed that there is no double-talk and double-dealing by their top politicians? Should Mr Assange be jailed because he has confirmed that most of the resst of the world does not live up to similar high standards of honesty and integrity?

But there is a broader message in all of this – and one that is especially pertinent to the contracts, legal and procurement community. Each day, we are working across the borders between companies and organizations. Each day, we are in a position where we have to make judgments over the honesty and integrity of others – sometimes our internal colleagues, who may be motivated by personal gain, and sometimes our external partners, who may be misrepresenting or overstating their needs or their capabilities.

Our task would be far easier if there was greater openness and transparency of data and information. And in truth, Wikileaks is just an early indicator of our future because the dissemination of information is increasingly hard to control. Think about the impacts of social networking, or the growing ‘data integration’ services that consolidate global information about organizations and companies. Secrets are more and more difficult to keep. And in general, that is a good thing, because most secrets involve duplicity, dishonesty or bad faith.

The contracts community is in many ways the front line for reputation management and judgment. As professionals, I hope that we are always making true and honest commitments; and I imagine we expect that from those with whom we choose to trade. So the advent of new tools and methods to confirm the inegrity of our trading partners is something that we should master and welcome. 

In the end, there is a certain irony that the country that arguably leads on openness and honesty is the one that Mr Assange has targettted for exposure. Where is Wikileaks China, Russia or Iran? The US should emerge from Wikileaks with a great sense of pride. Far from seeking to punish Mr Assange, the US public should thank him.

The real question each of us should now be asking is whether our country, or the organization we work for, could withstand similar scrutiny?

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