Problem

Classified public information

Other Names:
Secret public records
Inaccessible historical documents
Withdrawal of official documents from public scrutiny
Overclassification of embarrassing documents
Nature:
Information is kept secret by authorities for reasons ranging from risk to national security to risk of embarrassing people still alive (or their relatives). Given the importance attached to such information, a significant proportion of it must necessarily offer new insights into the current condition of society and the forces which inhibit any effective remedial action. Projects proposed and implemented in ignorance of these factors therefore run the risk of being inappropriate to the real conditions. Restricting access therefore directly impedes efforts to respond to the crises of society and encourages dependence on bureaucratic initiatives with a poor record in doing so.
Incidence:
Within the USA it has proved difficult for the responsible agencies to determine exactly how many classified documents they control. The Information Security Oversight Office, established in 1978, devised new procedures and determined that for 1989 the number of new secret documents numbered 6,796,501. The cumulative total is not available. As a specific example, researchers trying to model how the climate will change as a result of the greenhouse effect cannot obtain access to secret data on sea ice thickness collected by the nuclear submarines operated by the superpowers.
Claim:
1. Overly elaborate, costly declassification processes encourage historical distortion and facilitate cover-up by government. Governments conceal 30 to 40-year old secrets, enabling them to fabricate an official historical record.

2. Although the government must maintain some secrets, if members of the security apparatus can, with impunity, keep from those elected by the people that which they are entitled to know (or worse, feed them false information) then those who control the classified data can become the real decision makers, as happens in certain situations (such as the Iran-Contra incident in the USA).

Related Problems:
Inaccessible religious records
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
01.01.2000 – 00:00 CET