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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

February 1, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Obama’s presidency

The evils of secrecy

We have seen the effects of an administration forgetting a pledge of open government and turning to secrecy and away from public oversight. The Freedom of Information Act has been a law since 1966. It is about procedures for requesting and providing government information, but its unstated premise, that the people have a right and need to know, is well understood.

Many presidential candidates have promised an “open” government but Barack Obama is the first president to implement his promise by publicly stating he will fully obey this law and ordering all who report to him, including the military and CIA, to do so also. The most important aspect of this is the renewal of trust and acknowledgment of the other.

Of course there will be times when providing information will temporarily harm this nation, but it will never compete with the evils of secrecy.

There are many reasons I consider this Obama’s most important act to date. One is that the amount of information withheld from the people should be small and of limited duration because open discussion of ideas and resulting governmental action is very important, as it clarifies the reason for the idea or action. Governmental secrecy prevents this from taking place.

Some secrecy, such as military plans for a surprise attack or files of honest citizens’ personal information, can be justified, but it should be rare, clearly necessary and of limited duration.

I suggest that the standard President Obama set for himself be universalized. Any limit on public release of information, its reason and its duration must be recorded and all copies signed by both an authorized requesting person and an authorized person from a different department who has reviewed and approved it.

Requiring this record of responsibility would in itself help make secrecy rare and having everyone on record would help in future decisions.

— Edward George, Renton

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