Editorial: The dangers of secrecy

A representative democracy only works when the actions of individuals and the operations of institutions are transparent

For the most part, the Bush administration and the general public fail to appreciate the extent to which government secrecy undermines democratic processes.

That much is clear from yet another revelation that the federal government has been quietly reclassifying documents once generally available and removing them from public view.

It is just the latest case in which the Bush administration has secreted away paper and electronic documents that, in theory at least, make up an essential facet of the public record about government operations.

For several years, federal agencies have periodically scrubbed their Web sites of any documents or data that, in the wrong hands, might pose a security risk. That risk is vague enough to cover an alarming range of material, government watchdogs say.

But the public has generally ignored their warnings. People understand that a tension exists between national security and civil liberties, and they are often willing to raise a ruckus when things get out of whack. Unfortunately, the concept of government accountability does not elicit the same response.

A representative democracy only works when the actions of individuals and the operations of institutions are transparent. Voters need to know what decisions government officials have made and why, and they need to understand the consequences of those decisions.

At its best, the electoral process serves as the ultimate check against inefficiencies and a balance against political passions run amok. Without that transparency, a vote is just a shot in the dark.

That is not to say that some information should not be shielded from public view. Even the most vocal advocates for open government admit that national security requires some information to be kept under wraps. But secrecy should be the exception, not the rule.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • Login.gov moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group