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Opening White House Visitor Logs: Isn’t Transparency Going A Bit Too Far?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  September 7, 2009  |  3 Comments

As reported by the New York Times, last Friday President Obama said he will open up White House visitor logs on a regular basis for the first time in modern history. Visitor logs that will be disclosed include

As the article says

By the end of the year, the White House will begin posting online every month the names of the people who visited in the last 90 to 120 days. Each person’s full name will be listed, along with the date and time they entered and left and the name of the person they visited. About 70,000 to 100,000 people visit the White House each month, and the records will include tourists as well as people conducting business


The White House outlined several exceptions to the policy: “purely personal guests” of the Obama family; those cases in which the disclosure of visitors’ names “would threaten national security interests”; and those who come for “particularly sensitive meetings”

As I happened to be close to visiting the White House as a tourist with my family three or four years ago (unfortunately tours were fully booked for when we were in DC), I wonder whether I would be happy to let anybody know that I visited the White House at a given date. Probably I would have no problem with that, but under different circumstances I might.

People may not be willing to let a friend, an acquaintance, an employer, a wife or husband, know their exact whereabouts at a given date, for whichever reason. Therefore, while I understand that transparency calls for the American people to know which lobbyists visited which staff and when, I would argue that it is my right as a tourist to keep my visit to the White House for myself.

This is a clear example of how the boundaries between privacy and right to public information are quite fluid and blurred. People have been protesting against Google Streetview for taking their pictures: on the other hand, if I am walking or waiting for a bus on a public road, could that give the government the right to post my picture as I am using a public resource? What about people visiting museums, or visiting relatives at public hospitals or taking their kids into public schools?

Over the last few years privacy has been put in intensive care by national security: transparency may end up pulling the plug.

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Category: open-government-data  

Tags: obama  transparency  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Opening White House Visitor Logs: Isn’t Transparency Going A Bit Too Far?

  1. […] Opening White House Visitor Logs: Isn’t Transparency Going A Bit Too Far? – view page – cached Opening White House Visitor Logs: Isn’t Transparency Going A Bit Too Far? — From the page […]

  2. […] ironic? On the one hand governments strive to greater levels of transparency, e.g. by providing full records of who met the President or providing public information in such an open way that people can uncover all sorts of patterns. […]

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