Should the Government's First Priority Be to Protect Secrets or to Proactively Give Citizens Information?
Since the before the beginning of the First World War, the US government has encountered far greater need to protect technological and intelligence secrets from those who would abuse them. Of course, this means it must hide important information from its own citizens as well. For a democracy, such protective measures can hinder the ability of its people to participate in government. Although officials should guard sensitive material as long as its represents a significant threat, the US needs transparency for its citizens to trust government and support the democratic process.
From nuclear technology to hazardous biological research to military secrets and police mobilizations, there is a lot of valuable information and technology that could be very dangerous. The need for strict oversight when it comes to protecting secrets is the only way of preventing their abuse. Even seemingly trivial components in a piece of obsolete technology or small leak from a former government official can endanger a lot of people or undermine future national security efforts. In fact, many secure technologies can be used to reverse engineer or disable military technology.
On the other hand, paranoia cannot rule our Country. Only when the people are empowered with the knowledge they need to make quality decisions can they select the best leaders to protect and improve America. Government officials cannot simply slap a top secret stamp over every piece of information that comes out of their offices. During the George W. Bush Presidency, America saw the Vice President doing just that with events like lunch meetings held in his offices; the danger in this practice comes from officials who hide illegal and unethical behavior like torture programs.
Of course, Vice President Cheney's office was also responsible for leaking the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Clearly, this reckless and, what should be, illegal, activity demonstrates a need for balance. Protecting national secrets should be a top priority of any government; however, there is a lot of information that can be declassified as the danger is very minimal. Although our government has set a priority for transparency through legislation like the Freedom of Information Act, much of that information is difficult to obtain.
Fortunately, the Obama Administration has pledged to help facilitate the sharing of official government information with its citizens by improving platforms like government websites. While government officials cannot responsibly open top secret information to its citizens, they should be as proactive in providing us with information on government activity as possible. Moreover, protecting secrets, which can cause harm, is very important, but transparency is also necessary to guard against abuse of power.