13 September 2012

Unknown Unknowns

From Steve Aftergood's (FAS) excellent blog -
A new annual report on government secrecy discusses the quantitative and qualitative obscurity of [US] government secrecy policy which makes secrecy hard to evaluate and to control. The report was published by OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of some 80 organizations concerned with government transparency. 
"Measuring what it is we actually know about the openness of the American government is not a straightforward endeavor," the report says. "Information available to the public provides inconsistent and partial indicators about whether our government is becoming more, or less, open. In some areas, the information needed to know what the Executive Branch is doing and to hold it accountable to the public is not available at all." 
Even where quantitative data are available, as in the case of the number of classification decisions published annually by the Information Security Oversight Office, their qualitative significance is unclear, the report said. 
"Having information about the quantity of secrets kept by the federal government tells us nothing about their quality." 
The OpenTheGovernment.org report assembled the quantitative indicators of government secrecy and disclosure that could be obtained, and also discussed several categories that should be available but are not. 
"Good information is essential for the public to know what interests are influencing government policies, and more," said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org. "Partial and mis-information, however, erodes accountability and prevents the public from having an informed debate about critical national issues."