Monday, November 8, 2010

A little worried, but not surprised

I also was not shocked by the idea of government secrecy. I think in some situations the government needs to keep secrets in order to protect US citizens or to protect members of the armed forces. For example, I am fine with keeping information about future military flight plans secret because citizens don't really need to know that information ahead of time and it seriously endangers the pilot's and crews lives if everyone knows where and when they will be flying. On the other hand, I think it is important for citizens to have access to information about the government's actions and decisions; I think we should expect and demand that government be transparent, especially when the government is making decisions that will affect everyone. I think in these situations the media can play a major role keeping the government honest, but in the past several years I fear the media has been too willing to accept what the government says.

I found it interesting that Althaus and Leetaru were able to track back changes in the press releases. It made me think that maybe technology is making it more difficult to completely erase information and documents. But at the same time, I am concerned that people are not actively thinking about where information on the Internet comes from, whether it is accurate information, and who is providing the information. Although Althaus and Leetaru were able to track back the changes, most people would probably take the press releases at face value and not consider the fact that the government would change the press releases or take the time to investigate whether and how the press releases were changed.

Therefore, I am sort of conflicted about the role of secrecy in the government; on the one hand I think keeping information secret can be important but at the same time citizens deserve to know the information the government is using in making important decisions. One of my major concerns is not necessarily that the government keeps secrets, but the idea that the government is contracting out to private governments, which are not required to give up information to the public.

Finally, I think librarians can play an important role in ensuring access to information. I am not a practicing librarian and I did not necessarily choose this path because of the public service aspects of the profession; I ended up in librarianship because I realized that I preferred to be the one researching the law rather than practicing law. That being said, I think this public service aspect is important. I think the issues we have discussed have really made me think more about how the different issues and policies affect librarianship and how librarians can be involved in affecting changes or directions in policy. Thus, I think librarians should work on whatever level they want, whether that is ensuring access to information in their community or speaking out at a national level to get policies changed, to make sure people have access to information; for me, both the local, national, and global approaches are equally important in shaping future policies.


  1. I think the key thing to keep in mind when it comes to the government sharing information is to have consistently enforced guidelines as to who has the right to see what information. As you say Joanna, there are some things that the public doesn't need to know but that certain government officials or employees do (the names and other detailed info about who is on the "no fly list for example). And as you also pointed out, there is other information that the general public does have the right to access (detailed information about legislative bills). We have a government for a reason, and we must trust them to provide access to the information we need to be informed citizens, but to keep secure the information that will keep us safe.

  2. I really like the terms you define for government secrecy. Future plans for many organization deserve a level of privacy, like your airplane analogy, but covering up and changing past actions and decisions that affect the general public is an unsettling way to exhibit control. The Food and Drug Administration makes many, many decisions and approvals about health and food, and I think information like that should be shared.

    However, there's such a fine line between what should be public info and what needs to be kept quiet for privacy's sake. It makes me wonder what the world's most open, honest government is.