Secrecy Check

Welcome to Secrecy Check

Each September, provides a comprehensive view of the state of secrecy in a Secrecy Report. Follow our series “Secrecy Check” for a rolling analysis of the contributing information, stats, and reports as they come in.

PCLOB Report: We Don’t Know How Many Americans’ Emails the NSA Collects Under Section 702—But We Don’t Need to Know

The following is cross-posted from The Classified's new blog on national security secrecy.


The Privacy and Civil Liberties officially released its long-awaited report into Section 702 of FISA yesterday. It has been widely and deservedly panned by civil libertarians: the ACLUEFFCenter for Democracy and Technologythe Open Technology Institute, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Constitution ProjectAmie StepanovichJennifer GranickMarcy WheelerLiza Goitein, Geoffrey Stone, and more.


From a transparency point of view, the report does provide some new, useful details about how 702 surveillance works–but it leaves crucial questions unanswered, and many of them will remain unanswered even if the government adopts PCLOB’s transparency recommendations.

Secrecy Report 2013 --The Tip of the Iceberg

WASHINGTON, October 1, 2013 – Today’s release of the 2013 Secrecy Report, the 9th annual review and analysis of indicators of secrecy in the federal government by, comes amid shocking revelations that cast doubt on the accuracy and the meaningfulness of the government’s statistics about surveillance. As is highlighted in the introduction to this report and in comments provided to by former-Representative Mickey Edwards (R-OK), the government’s insistence on keeping interpretations of the law secret and a lack of oversight by Congress and the Judicial Branch helped set the stage for a surveillance program that is much broader than previously believed.

Through the Transparency Lens: An NSA Domestic Spying Primer

Earlier this June, documents published by the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed the great extent to which the National Security Agency (NSA) is scooping up Americans’ telephone and internet data as part of its surveillance programs. Below are brief descriptions of key words and terms for understanding the issues in play, and links to learn more.

Secrecy Check: FOIA by the Numbers

We have said previously that the Department of Justice seems to view agency implementation of the Freedom of Information Act through rose-colored glasses. Each year, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) collects and summarizes agencies’ FOIA reports to give a look at the broader state of FOIA processing. Some of the FY 2012 data justifies DOJ’s rosy view, but there are notable exceptions.

Secrecy Check: Surveillance and the FISA Court

In 2012, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approved every single one of the federal government’s 1,856 applications made to it for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes.

Secrecy Check: Security Clearance Numbers Appear to Grow; Exact Number Still Murky

For the past three years, one aspect of the growth of the classified universe has been indicated by the number of security clearances. On October 1, 2012 personnel deemed eligible for clearance numbered 4,917,751, a 1.1 percent growth from the year before. Of course, these numbers do not tell the whole story. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is required to report on the number of personnel “deemed eligible” for clearance, not the number of personnel granted access to classified information. Employees are given access on a “need to know” basis. Apparently, ODNI does not think the public needs to know that information. We disagree: an increase in clearances means more individuals who could derivatively classify documents, funneling more classified documents into an already overloaded and broken declassification system.