Government agencies are expanding secrecy in many areas, according to the findings of a report released today. The 2005 Secrecy Report Card, the second annual report on secrecy from OpenTheGovernment.org, found secrecy in 2004 extended to more classified activity, more federal advisory meetings, more new patents deemed “secret,” more domestic surveillance, and more new state laws restricting public access to information.
“The indicators we examined point to one conclusion: secrecy is growing,” said Rick Blum, director of OpenTheGovernment.org. “As it expands secrecy — spending billions, issuing orders, closing meetings, and operating out of the public eye — government is shutting out the public. Secrecy robs us of the chance to make informed decisions, to make our communities safer, and fundamentally, to participate in our democracy. We must reverse this troubling trend.”
The report cites many indicators of growing secrecy, including:
– In 2004, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved 1,754 secret surveillance orders, rejecting none of the requests for such orders made by U.S. intelligence agencies. So while surveillance activity of foreign organizations and nationals under the jurisdiction of this secretive court has doubled in the past five years, the public knows nothing of who and what is being investigated or how these agencies are carrying them out.
– Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of federal advisory committee meetings in 2004 were completely closed to the public, with still more partially closed. This undermines the purpose of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the intent of Congress.
– The federal government has at least 50 overlapping and vague categories for keeping “sensitive but unclassified” information from the public. Use of these categories allows government agencies or employees to manipulate access to public information (to hide embarrassing or inconvenient facts or to continue to profit off their distribution, for example) out of “security” concerns.