Transparency must come first
A series of absurd events happened recently in the United States, the world’s most powerful country.
A notable case was the White House break-in in September. Omar Gonzales jumped the fence, dashed across the lawn and entered the building without being stopped. He was caught by security guards only after he penetrated the East Room, where President Obama gives speeches and meets guests. It stirred the U.S. political circle. But what was strange was the release of the White House’s layout. The media discussed where rooms were located and how they are connected. They included the locations of the guards and what time the emergency alarm bell was rang. They were interesting stories, but potential housebreakers could glean so much information from them.
But the solution is to reinforce security, not change the media. The White House made it clear that the building should not be a secretive space. In fact, its layout is no secret. The White House website offers a detailed tour of the presidential office and residence, saying “President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are committed to opening the doors of the White House and truly making it the People’s House.”
Another case that exposed U.S. vulnerability was the Ebola outbreak. When the first Ebola patient died earlier last month, U.S. society panicked. The places that Ebola patients visited and the people they had been in contact with were avoided. The wedding shop that the nurse who contracted the virus had visited had to temporarily close.
The situation in New York was more serious due to its high population density. When a patient was confirmed, the city publicly revealed where he went and what kind of transportation he used by investigating his credit card transactions and bank records. The park the patient walked in, the restaurant he dined in and the bowling lane he visited were disclosed. His privacy was not considered.
The city government’s strategy was transparency. They focused on easing the anxiety of citizens. But the businesses the patient had visited lost customers at first as a result. The restaurant reopened after an inspection by health authorities. The New York Mayor visited it and dined there to clear the concerns of citizens. Nevertheless, transparency is powerful. It could stop rumors from being spread and speculation that the patient visited public places that he hadn’t been to. At least people trust that the authorities are not hiding anything. It saved the city from being stirred up by fear-mongering.
The United States may seem vulnerable, but it could remain the most powerful nation in the world, thanks to its commitment to transparency.
*The author is a New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 1, Page 34
By LEE SANG-RYEOL