The Right To Know

We live in an information society in which data has become a commodity and are being stored and distributed in an increasingly massive manner. But how much do we need and want to know? When is it mandatory to have total transparency and when is it better to refrain from making data accessible at all or in a limited way only? How are privacy, efficiency and security balanced in this respect? These questions, which relate to the essence of our contemporary information society, are the main focus of the Impakt Festival 2011. With lectures, presentations, film screenings, concerts and workshops, the festival highlights several aspects of this debate and the often conflicting interests of the numerous parties involved.

The debate about the availability of data and the right to fence off data is not new; in fact, this issue has been a point of multifaceted discussion for several decades. However, with the rise of the Internet and the constant advancement of computer technologies, this issue is becoming more and more urgent. By now, the discussion has become part of our daily lives and a true balancing act with governments, citizens, producers and users as the protagonists.

In the 80s and 90s of the previous century, surveillance, CCTV monitoring and privacy were the dominant notions of the debate. In the first decade of the 21st century, the focus of the discussion shifted more towards the future of intellectual property and the controversy between the entertainment industry and piracy. Recently, Wikileaks and the role of social media in democratization processes have taken centre stage in the public debate. The Wikileaks publications on secret diplomatic, military and political documents have revealed a great deal of important data. But they have also given rise to the question of whether it is desirable to have fully transparent governments without any secrets at all. Social media are playing an important role in the Arab Spring but at the same time provide repressive regimes with the opportunity to monitor and influence dissident tendencies. This is also one of the reasons why critics have very divergent opinions on the role of the Internet in democratization processes.

However, Wikileaks and the Arab Spring are just two examples underscoring the importance of the debate. In fact, not a day goes by without a news report about or related to this issue. Think, for instance, of typically Dutch issues such as the Electronic Patients’ Dossier and the hacking of the security certificates of DigiNotar, but also of international issues such as copyrights and rights of use within social network sites, Internet neutrality and Deep Package Inspection used by telephone and Internet providers to get an insight into our data traffic. A perhaps less obvious, but no less far reaching issue concerns patent granting and commercialization of the results of scientific research by the pharmaceutical and agricultural sector. Essential data about human DNA and life-saving medicines has become merchandise and disease resistant genetically modified crops are protected by trademark laws. Perhaps the public good would be better off with free and uninhibited access to this information although this, in turn, would also be likely to take away an important stimulus for innovation.

The complex nature of the issue shows that extreme positions in the debate are no longer tenable. Neither radical transparency, nor strict secrecy is desirable. The main field of tension therefore seems to lie somewhere in the middle. And this is the immense playground of the festival’s explorations.

The Impakt Festival 2011 dives into all dilemmas inherent in our modern data society. With conspiracy theories and cover-ups, digital dissidents and banned videos, data journalism and fear management, fine print messages and big secrets.

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