Saturday, December 13, 2003

Secrecy And The Death Of Accountability
For the past three years, the Bush administration has quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government--cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters. The result has been a reversal of a decades-long trend of openness in government while making increasing amounts of information unavailable to the taxpayers who pay for its collection and analysis.

Bush administration officials often cite the September 11 attacks as the reason for the enhanced secrecy. But as the Inauguration Day directive from Card indicates, the initiative to wall off records and information previously in the public domain began from Day 1. Steven Garfinkel, a retired government lawyer and expert on classified information, puts it this way: "I think they have an overreliance on the utility of secrecy. They don't seem to realize secrecy is a two-edge sword that cuts you as well as protects you."

Even supporters of the administration, many of whom agree that security needed to be bolstered after the attacks, say Bush and his inner circle have been unusually assertive in their commitment to increased government secrecy. "Tightly controlling information, from the White House on down, has been the hallmark of this administration," says Roger Pilon, vice president of legal affairs for the Cato Institute.

There is no greater threat to this nation, to the integrity of information, and to our long-term security than the current Bush Administration. This is why we need to do the Freedom of Information Act over again, and make it a full constitutional amendment that clearly defines when information can be secret.

Secrecy leads to abuse. To conspiracy. It undercuts accountability. It casts a shadow over everything, instead of being exposed in the light. And it is a grave threat to free markets and healthy capitalism.

This must stop.

We can only assure it with a constitutional amendment to strengthen the freedom of information and the rights of citizens to hold their public servants accountable, not to mention compete fairly in the market against elites with exclusive national security clearances to increasing amounts of market-relevant information.