Criticism of government transparency has pros and cons to consider. On the pro side, critics maintain secrecy increases stalemates, the poor performance of elected officials and government indecision. On the con side, critics avoid the most obvious reason for government transparency: placing too much power in too few hands. Most citizens of the U.S. understand the need for secrecy in times of war to avoid leaks to an enemy. This information is designated, “classified” The official definition of classified material is determined by a government body who deems material contains sensitive information that must be protected.
Such documents and information are properly marked by the author. These are labeled according to sensitivity levels as:
- Top secret
Abuses of Government Transparency
Whenever government becomes too politicized, the shadow of abuses to government transparency often become evident to the public. Thus, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), now 52 years old, was signed in 1966 by then-President Lyndon Johnson.
During World War II, Americans began to believe their government was not being fully transparent. By the 1970s, the issue of government transparency was in the spotlight again as a result of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate shedding light on the potential harms of government secrecy. Another abuse of government transparency lies with “over-classification” of government documents, made more difficult with the advent of government computers and email.
Today, the issue of government transparency remains an unresolved issue. More so, when there is continuous politicization in government. The party of the majority may choose more secrecy or more transparency, depending mainly on party ideology.
The Internet and Challenge to Critics of Government Transparency
The internet has changed many things. One of these issues is the ability to search for information freely that may be “classified” or “declassified.” It is the job of elected officials to clearly understand the harm done to citizens when secrecy begins to be part of a political agenda. The other issue that grants transparency is “taxes.”
When citizens pay taxes that pay government employees and elected officials wages, as well as projects, they are “buyers” who have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. As such, the government should make this information readily available to the citizens that request it. This information should not be kept secret or withheld from citizens unless it’s truly an issue of national security.