The Managing Director of the Telecommunications Transparency Project, Christopher Parsons, has had a paper accepted by Business and Society that discusses the merits and faults of voluntarily produced transparency reports. When firms issue transparency reports they release information that would otherwise be kept secret from public eye. Parsons’ paper focuses on telecommunications transparency reports, which expose the frequency and rationales at which government agencies request telecommunications firms to disclose information pertaining to their subscribers.
Centrally, the paper finds that companies will not necessarily produce easily comparable reports even in calm political waters and that, even should reports become comparable, they may conceal as much as they reveal. Using a model for evaluating transparency reporting first developed by Fung, Graham, and Weil in their 2007 book, Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promises of Transparency, Parsons finds that the reports issued by telecommunications companies are somewhat effective because they have led to changes in corporate behaviour and stakeholder interest, but have have been ineffective in prodding governments to behave more accountably. Moreover, reports issued by Canadian companies routinely omit how companies themselves are involved in facilitating government surveillance efforts when not legally required to do so. In effect, transparency reporting — even if comparable across industry partners — risks treating the symptom — the secrecy of surveillance — without getting to the cause — how surveillance is facilitated by firms themselves.
A pre-copyedited version of the paper, titled, “The (In)effectiveness of Voluntarily Produced Transparency Reports,” is available at the Social Sciences Research Network.