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Arien Mack Editor’s Introduction W H IL E FREE A CCESS TO K N O W LED G E A N D IN F O R M A T IO N IS TH E bedrock of all democratic societies, no democratic society can function w ithout limits on w hat can be known, w hat ought to be kept confiden­ tial, and w hat m ust rem ain secret. The tensions among these com pet­ ing ends are ever present and continuously raise questions about the legitimacy of limits. W hat limits are necessary to safeguard and protect a democratic polity? W hat limits underm ine it? Of course, there is no need to be a student of history to know th at the kinds and severity o f lim its wax and w ane over time. In the very recent past and in the present, the governm ent has prom ulgated such policies as “don’t ask, d on’t tell” and policies th at perm it the FBI access to our phone records and to inform ation about w hat books we borrow from the library. These m ay be the least egregious examples, and w hile the first m ay be revoked, the second m ay rem ain in place, along w ith many, m any others. It w ould appear th a t all stable dem ocracies place structural lim its on lim its; th a t is, they appear to have som e sort of built-in capacity to “retu rn ” from periods in w hich access to knowledge and inform ation is severely lim ited, such as after W orld W ar II or after the McCarthy period in the case of the United States, to a m ore “norm al” state. W hat accounts for this? W hat explains why periods in w hich lim its increase invariably seem to be follow ed by a relaxation of lim its and a retu rn to some m idpoint betw een m axim al and m inim al restrictions? Let us hope th a t this historical pattern will now repeat itself and the increased lim its placed on our access to knowledge by the Bush adm inistration w ill begin to recede. Editor’s Introduction xiii The central questions asked by this issue and th e Social Research conference at th e New School, our twenty-second, on w hich it is based (the conference began on February 24, 2010, was interru p ted by a snow storm , and so concluded on May 27), are: W here is the United States today w ith respect to the lim its on our access to inform ation? W hat should be kept confidential? W hat can and do the governm ent and other institutions keep secret? How do we gain access to infor­ m ation, and how do we decide w hat inform ation is a citizen’s right to know? Are ever-increasing technological innovations fundam en­ tally transform ing w hat we can know and w hat we cannot, w hat can rem ain confidential and w hat cannot? On one hand, new technolo­ gies have given increasingly larger com m unities access to inform a­ tion and know ledge, thus eroding lim its, w hile on th e other hand, technologies are increasingly used by governm ents, businesses, and other social institutions to m onitor and interfere w ith w hat we can and cannot know, and w hat is private and w hat is not. The conference and this issue w ere designed to recognize th at it is n o t only governm ents th a t im pose lim its on know ledge and control the flows of inform ation. Limits on and accessibility to infor­ m ation also are affected by political m anipulation o f the scientific enterprise, funding decisions, research com m unities them selves (which decide w hat to explore and w hat not to), m arket forces, and other forces th a t control th e media, as w ell as by th e m edia’s own role in lim iting or increasing...


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