Transparency has long been a rare commodity in international affairs. But today, the forces of technology are ushering in a new age of openness that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. Governments, journalists, and nongovernmental organ-izations (NGOs) can now harness a flood of open-source information, drawn from commercial surveillance satellites, drones, smartphones, and computers, to reveal hidden activities in contested areas—from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea.
Over the next decade, the market-driven explosion of surveillance sensors and data analytics will bring an unprecedented level of transparency to global affairs. Commercial satellites will capture daily images of the entire globe, offering inexpensive and automated reports on everything from crop yields to military activity. Journalists, NGOs, and bloggers will increasingly use crowdsourced data to uncover wartime atrocities and expose government hypocrisy. Private security companies will discover the sources of cyberattacks and data theft. Biometric systems will expose the identities of clandestine operatives, and government agencies will struggle to contain leakers and whistleblowers.
Sean P. Larkin is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and previously served as Director of Staff for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance at U.S. Air Force Headquarters. The views expressed here are his own.
This article appeared in the Foreign Affairs 2016 May/June edition. It is republished here with permission.
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