Notes on Government Transparency

Transparency and accountability are always loved by those out of power but seldom by those in power.  Thus we hear a lot about them on the campaign trail, and then suddenly, once folks are in office, silence.  Two examples today.

First, this unbelievably anti-democratic and egregious proposal

A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don't exist—even when they do.

Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what's known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

The new proposal—part of a lengthy rule revision by the Department of Justice—would direct government agencies to "respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

The second story is in the same spirit, of using secrecy to avoid scrutiny and accountability

Sometime in 2012, I will begin the ninth year of my life under an FBI gag order, which began when I received what is known as a national security letter at the small Internet service provider I owned. On that day in 2004 (the exact date is redacted from court papers, so I can’t reveal it), an FBI agent came to my office and handed me a letter. It demanded that I turn over information about one of my clients and forbade me from telling “any person” that the government had approached me....

For years, the government implausibly claimed that if I were able to identify myself as the plaintiff in the case, irreparable damage to national security would result. But I did not believe then, nor do I believe now, that the FBI’s gag order was motivated by legitimate national security concerns. It was motivated by a desire to insulate the FBI from public criticism and oversight.


  1. me:

    This in a nutshell is the reason why I'd happily vote for *any* contender against the sitting president, regardless of how looney they might appear. If typical campaign/term duplicity isn't punished and seen to be punished, we'll remain forever with a system of governance based on popular acclamation of the best liar. That this has very little in common with the idea of democracy should be obvious.

  2. caseyboy:

    Another moment in American Oxymoron history. Comply with the Freedom of Information ACT by freely denying the information exists. Brilliant!

    Thomas Jefferson would be soooo proud.

  3. me:

    The really good thing about globalization and the glasnost turns out to be that now there is a sufficiently large subgroup of former eastern bloc inhabitants of the US, who will have experience with this type of nation-state... another irony me and a coworker of mine recently hit upon was that Prawda now actually is a pretty reliable and unbiased source of news. Strange how the world works. We won the cold war only to lose it to ourselves.

  4. stan:


    Think you might have some fun with this and its application to climate models.

  5. Matt:

    "I’d happily vote for *any* contender against the sitting president"

    The only sane choice is to not play their game.

    Don't ever vote in any government election.