Transparency and Trust

This is a work in progress, published, but not the final article, so it can be referred to from other articles.

Trust is really important – particularly when it comes to how we make decisions. (See How to we decide ?) Who do we vote for , what product do we buy, who do we believe. If Trust is so important, why have I listed it second ? That is because I believe that Transparency must come before Trust (in non-theological realms at least – trust in God is too complex to cover here – but see Trusted Person below)


Trust in groups

Membership of some groups tends to carry, for good or bad, implications about trustworthiness. Often the failings of one bad member of the group will taint the reputation of the whole group.


Spiked drinks and needles in Night Clubs damage trust in the whole night economy

Corrupt, or foolish police officers damage trust in the police

Policiticians suspected of being influenced by outsiders risk trust in the political system.

Charity scandals, and excessive payments to managers.

Often groups close ranks, and try to hide wrongdoing, or suspected wrongdoing by insiders to protect the group reputation, but when it comes out the loss of trust runs deeper as it demonstrates that suspicion of the group was wise.

The solution is a transparent investigative process. As allegations may turn out to be incorrect or malicious some of this may need to happen without disclosure. If the allegations were malicious then whether they should be exposed is a tricky issue, possibly with an answer in Game Theory.

Trust in Politics and Politicians


In a democratic society trust in the voting process is very important. If people lose trust in the fairness of elections then they lose trust in the political process. Transparency in how votes are counted and recorded becomes very important.

I am a Debian developer, and Debian, as a project, has a great deal of interest in voting systems. The voting process is described here, and is fully open to inspection (transparent). The discussions around votes take place on public mailing lists, also open to inspection – for example the page about the Diversity Statement, has links to the vote and the discussions before the vote was taken.

Changes of power

It is human nature to believe that “the grass is always greener”, and in a well functioning democracy this will lead to change in who has control of the machinery of government. Knowing that your political opponents will at some point in the future have access to the records of how decisions were reached, if they were not already available through Freedom of Information legislation, should moderate the desire to bring excessive power into particular roles, as those may well be filled by people with different views in the future.

Trust in Software and Systems

An aspect of the systems I trust most is that they do not ask to be trusted, instead they show how they work.


Has a focus on openness – the tools Debian uses to build new systems are available to inspection. One of the current focuses is on Reproducible Builds, similar to, and related to Reproducibility in Science.

Internet Engineering Task Force


Trusted Person

In enterprise computer administration a trusted person is someone who has the access to any data on the system. Such people have to exist, in order to be able to investigate problems, ensure that backup copies of data are taken and so on. Ensuring that they are also trustworthy is a Human Resources and Management issue rather than a technical one. If you want to use the system you have to trust them. In a well run organisation there will be a culture amongst that group of trusted persons that will prevent that power from being abused, for the sake of the reputation of the group.

Going back to theology, in a sense God is like a Trusted Person – if there is an entity with absolute power then you have to trust them.

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