Reducing government secrecy

Exposing official secrecy

Governments' obsession with secrecy has kept the governed from learning what their government is doing or has done, whilst national secrecy has been misused to cover up misguided policies and activities. Reducing government secrecy and increasing information flow to the public holds the government more accountable and permits the public to know what they need to know to control their government, or elect a new one. Reducing government secrecy is an essential element for democratic governance. In addition, keeping information secret can be very costly. For instance, the United States employs more than 32,000 full-time government employees to determine document classification status.

During the Cold War, many countries' levels of national security rose sharply. In the post-Cold War era, highly secretive and potentially unaccountable state structures and processes remain "embedded" in countries such as the United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, that need to be reformed by making them more accountable and less secretive.


In April 1995, an executive order was signed by the USA President that would automatically declassify most existing secrets after 25 years, and require most future secret documents to be declassified after 10 years. Until recently, government documents could be kept secret for at least 30 years and were only declassified, if at all, after time-consuming review. The order would also prevent or hamper the development of new secrets by encouraging official challenges to overclassification by making classifiers justify what they classify and by expecting employees to challenge improper classification and be protected from retribution. The order furthermore establishes an interagency appeals council to hear challenges to classification, specifies sanctions for overclassification and creates a panel outside the government to recommend areas for systematic declassification. However, the measures allow important exemptions that can facilitate continued secrecy and its abuses.

Exposing secrecy
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions