We all come into contact with confidentiality rules as third party associates. We talk to lawyers, doctors, and psychologists, from whom we rightly expect confidentiality. We even have, naively, certain expectations of confidentiality with certain online corporations, sites, and servers. However, these kinds of confidentiality agreements serve very clear purposes; we understand what they are for and what they are supposed to protect. Furthermore, the confidentiality arrangements used by doctors or lawyers are designed by professional associations and are intended to protect the professions themselves. We all understand, for example, that the legal system wouldn't work without some significant form of client-lawyer privilege.
However, when our legislators begin to write hugely broad confidentiality agreements for their employees, we should sit up and take notice. When a large group of public employees are asked to sign an agreement that says they won't reveal anything about what they see while on the public payroll, alarm bells go off in my head. It is one thing for a professional association to create their own confidentiality rules, it is entirely another when employees are compelled to sign such agreements. This is because a mandatory agreement like this can easily be used not simply to protect confidentiality but to scare and intimidate employees into maintaining extreme obedience.
Looking at the big picture, one has to ask "what exactly are these agreements intended to protect?" If the goal is to protect very sensitive material relating to security, then they should be written very specifically to reflect that intent. But they are not. Anyone looking at such agreements, particularly the one now being proposed, is struck by how broad they are.
There is a huge problem of corruption in politics everywhere. And it doesn't require an insightful mind or political knowledge to understand why. The problem is that the people who create the rules that are supposed to protect the nation from corruption are written by the very same people who benefit from that corruption. We might as well have a group of millionaires write our tax code or the oil companies write our environmental protection rules. (Of course, with Harper in office, some might say that this is already happening.)
The gag rules that this government is going to impose on civil servants is not intended simply to protect security issues or sensitive personal information. Rather, they are intended to create an atmosphere of fear among civil servants with the long term goal of insulating the government and allow its favoured members to break the law without fear of discovery or prosecution.
Almost every major political scandal emerges into the public eye because someone bypassed official channels and went public with the information. Though few people have talked about it, the only reason the recent Senate scandal occurred is because someone fed emails to the media. Even the events of Watergate and the depth of Nixon's malfeasance were only known because one man went to the media.
If we want to improve our political institutions we should be looking at how to make them MORE transparent not LESS. We don't need to worry about MP staffers writing books about personal information relating to what they have seen in the back-rooms of government. Rather we need to start asking what our MPs need to so badly to hide from citizens. But once again, our political class is simply reacting to public scrutiny aimed at the depth of their corruption, and attempting to shore up the avenues of possible leaks of information relating to their malfeasance.