Radical Secrecy: The Ends of Transparency in Datafied America by Clare Birchall
Reimagining transparency and secrecy in the era of digital data
When total data surveillance delimits agency and revelations of political wrongdoing fail to have consequences, is transparency the social panacea liberal democracies purport it to be? This book sets forth the provocative argument that progressive social goals would be better served by a radical form of secrecy, at least while state and corporate forces hold an asymmetrical advantage over the less powerful in data control. Clare Birchall asks: How might transparency actually serve agendas that are far from transparent? Can we imagine a secrecy that could act in the service of, rather than against, a progressive politics?
To move beyond atomizing calls for privacy and to interrupt the perennial tension between state security and the public's right to know, Birchall adapts Edouard Glissant's thinking to propose a digital right to opacity. As a crucial element of radical secrecy, she argues, this would eventually give rise to a postsecret society, offering an understanding and experience of the political that is free from the false choice between secrecy and transparency. She grounds her arresting story in case studies including the varied presidential styles of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump; the Snowden revelations; conspiracy theories espoused or endorsed by Trump; WikiLeaks and guerrilla transparency; and the opening of the state through data portals.
Postsecrecy is the necessary condition for imagining, finally, an alternative vision of the good, of equality, as neither shaped by neoliberal incarnations of transparency nor undermined by secret state surveillance. Not least, postsecrecy reimagines collective resistance in the era of digital data.