Monday, June 12, 2006

Public Secrets

Robert Kaiser explains why secrecy is not security in yesterday's Washington Post:
Secrecy and security are not the same. On this point, Exhibit A for journalists here at The Post is the 1971 Pentagon Papers case. The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret history of the Vietnam War written inside the Pentagon and leaked to the New York Times and then The Post. Top-secret means a document is so sensitive that its revelation could cause "exceptionally grave damage to the national security." The Nixon administration was in power, and it went to court to block publication on grounds that revealing this history would endanger the nation. A court in New York enjoined the two papers from publishing the information for several days.

But the Supreme Court decided, 6 to 3, that the government had failed to make a case that overrode the constitutional bias in favor of publication. The man who argued the case was Solicitor General Erwin N. Griswold. Eighteen years later, Griswold wrote a confession for the op-ed page of this newspaper: "I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication [of the Papers]. Indeed, I have never seen it even suggested that there was such an actual threat."


For the Founders, the issue was freedom and how best to secure it. Addressing that point in his Pentagon Papers opinion, Justice Hugo Black captured the spirit that animates my profession in just two sentences:

'The government's power to censor the press was abolished [by the First Amendment] so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.'


Blogger DivaJood said...

Unfortunately, recently the press seems to have forgotten this basic principle.

10:21 AM  
Blogger chris_e said...

secrecy does not equate to security just as privacy is not the answer to surveillance. in today's world of constant surveillance, data mining and ubiquitous telecomunications in league with the imperial regime, people cannot hope to be private individuals. instead liberty must be secured through transparency and accountability. the trouble with such methodology reemerges when we consider the channels of engagement and holding the powers that be accountable. The telecommunications industry dominates these channels and turns them into a stage for inequality either by denying net nuetrality or handing over our more "suspicious" brothers and sisters to the thugs at the nsa. I don't know the solution that can make the regime transparent and or accountable but I believe exploring channels of communication that cannot be co-opted or ones that might subvert teleco itself might be a starting point.

Privacy is not the antidote to surveillance[*]
by Felix Stalder

7:48 AM  

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