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This site is concerned with exploring the concept of an information economy; to look at 'information' - how it is measured; how value is assigned; how credibility is established, and more - across disciplines, including but not limited to: economics, memetics, ecology, physics, public sector vs private sector, philosophy, cognition theories, risk communication, security, secrecy vs transparency. And, if possible, in doing so create a common, multi-disciplinary scaffolding for future policy dev

Saturday, April 03, 2004

A look at some of the costs of secrecy 

Newtonian Secrecy: Analyzing Secrecy in Public Policy Decisions

A national security system was in place, and would thereafter be on the defensive more than otherwise. It became easy to argue that the Government was hiding something. Conspiracy theories emerged to explain misfortune or predict disaster. There is nothing novel in the appearance of conspiratorial fantasies, but it could be argued that it is something new for large portions of the American public to believe that agencies designed to protect them are, in fact, endangering them. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “REPORT of the COMMISSION ON PROTECTING AND REDUCING GOVERNMENT SECRECY”, 1997 (SENATE DOCUMENT 105-2 PURSUANT TO PUBLIC LAW 236, 103RD CONGRESS)



Polls show that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe JFK died as a result of a conspiracy, and about half believe the CIA was somehow involved. Whatever remains in the CIA files cannot be nearly as awful as the American public imagines. To be sure, I hardly saw everything there was to see, but I got not even a whiff of dirty tricks that had somehow remained hidden from Church Committee investigators or the army of historians and authors who write about the CIA. I really believe that it would be in the Agency's interest to let historians see for themselves what remains classified. I do not see why the Agency does not declassify almost any secret that is more than 30 years old. Evan Thomas, Gaining Access to CIA's Records, Studies in Intelligence, Volume 39 Number 5, 1996:


This paper explores the value of secrecy in its various forms, the relationship of secrecy to trust, and is a call on policy makers to develop a framework which allows policy makers in various organizations and at multiple levels to visualize the potential benefits and consequences of different levels of information communication. It is with this in mind that this paper looks at this reliance on secrecy to conduct many of our basic interactions as a potential contributory source for a great deal of our dissatisfaction and distrust of major institutions. Yet, as individuals, we wish to maintain our right to privacy, and few citizens would question the value of keeping the codes to our nuclear weapons secret. In the current climate, there is now a call to keep a great deal of the research findings in biotechnology and nanotechnology from the public. Is the risk in keeping the operations of chemical companies operations secret greater or less than continuing to require disclosure of the chemicals they are using which may potentially fall into the hands of terrorists? Have we come to rely on secrecy to too great an extreme? Have increasing levels of information technology made the cost of maintaining secrets far greater then in the past? To what extent does secrecy affect public trust? And, can an effective framework be developed to help policy makers make decisions related to secrecy? An argument can be made that ultimately secrecy, by its nature invisible, is too great a challenge to attempt to measure and evaluate its impact. But, no one has seen electricity, and yet we have all seen the effects. Additionally, there exists a vast amount of literature on electricity which not only defines electricity in a useful manner, but also provides the means to measure its effects. In light of the impact of secrecy on the information economy and the economy in general, and secrecy’s impact on the public’s trust in major institutions, especially when secret and often illegal activities are exposed, it is hoped that the following concepts, though by no means definitive nor complete, will spur others to pursue the development of a useful common framework upon which secrecy can be better defined and measured, and its impact predicted to a level of accuracy not available to policy makers today. Answering all the questions raised above is beyond the scope of this paper, but it does attempt to point out many of the difficulties, and hopefully it will spur others to investigate ‘secrecy’, its costs and its benefits, to a greater depth then is available at present.

This paper is composed of three major sections. The first section provides an overview of the current known status of secrecy in the United States, and provides definitions of the terms related to secrecy upon which the other two sections build. The second section provides an overview of the current state of trust in major institutions and defines terms for utilization in the final section, as well as introducing a formula for measuring trust. The final section utilizes the concepts and definitions and the trust formula introduced in the first two sections to introduce ‘Wu’, a concept to aid policy makers in visualizing the affect of irrational biases and their influence on information transactions involving secrecy and trust.

Secrecy
The 1997 “Report of the Commission On Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy”, chaired by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is the second Congressional Commission to attempt a comprehensive assessment of government secrecy. The first Commission, established in 1955, was the Commission on Government Security and issued its final report in 1957. The findings of the two commissions and their subsequent reports are remarkably similar. Both reports recognize the legitimate need for the government to protect information in the interests of national security. Surely, anyone can recognize the legitimacy of restricting access to information in the case of the codes and access procedures for arming and launching America’s nuclear arsenal. Or, of similar importance, citizens understand the restriction on the information concerning troop movements in time of war. However, both reports found the procedures for classifying information and the amount of information classified as out of step with actual legitimate national security concerns. The report issued by the Moynihan Commission is a very comprehensive guide to current levels of secrecy in government and the related costs, in a very broad and detailed sense. Two of the surveys cited in the report provide what may be a very conservative cost estimate of the costs to taxpayers for protecting classified information. The first survey cited, 1994, estimated the total annual security costs of reporting agencies and departments for 1993 to be approximately $2.27 billion (costs for the CIA were omitted). The second survey, using improved methods, was issued in 1996, and put the costs of classifying information for government agencies at $2.7 billion (again excluding CIA cost data), and the cost to related defense industry firms at $2.9 billion, for a total outlay to protect classified national security information of approximately $5.6 billion annually. The report also looked at the broader intelligence community distributed among various departments and agencies, the related contractor organizations and a large host of university and research institutions as a large information economy. In this light, the report views secrecy and the classification system as a set of regulations, and provides insight into how the system distorts the information economy. Of course, much of this must rely on extrapolation from the data available, as this regulatory system self regulates itself into intentional/unintentional levels of obscurity. The report states that secrecy is the ultimate mode of regulation; leaving citizens unaware that they are being regulated. Regulations of the normal nature inform a citizen about his required behavior and are therefore disseminated to inform the citizen. In contrast, secrecy regulates what knowledge a citizen may have, but does not let him know what he legally may not know.
Even so, “overregulation” is a continuing theme in American public life, as in most modern administrative states. Secrecy would be such an issue, save that secrecy is secret. Make no mistake, however. It is a parallel regulatory regime with a far greater potential for damage if it malfunctions. Sen. Moynihan, Chairman’s Forward, 1997

And, in keeping with the concept of economics, the report points out that free markets provide players with the most information. And that as the free flow of information is restricted the markets become less efficient. In 1995, Executive Order 12958 authorized twenty officials to classify as Top Secret “information, the unauthorized disclosure of which could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” This authority has been delegated to 1,336 “original classifiers.” “Derivative classification” authority is given to two million government officials and to one million industrial contractors. In 1995 there were 21,871 “original” Top Secret designations and 374,244 “derivative” designations. Were there 400,000 secrets created in 1995, the disclosure of any one of which would “cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security”? ibid.

However, it is not just in matters of national security where there is a legitimate need for secrecy, which may be abused. In many aspects of our system the use of secrecy is viewed as a legitimate tool for the protection of various institutions and systems including the Grand Jury systems, the government witness protection programs, and with a proper court order, the authority to use covert surveillance while investigating criminal activity. The right to privacy, which may be considered the right of individuals to have secrets, has been alluded to in a number of cases as protections arising from the 1st, 4th, and 5th amendments of the Bill of Rights. One of the first cases of significance might be MEYER v. STATE OF NEBRASKA, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), in which the right of the state to prevent parents from teaching their children in a language other than English was considered an invasion of liberty and related to parental privacy. It was not until GRISWOLD v. CONNECTICUT, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) that an independent right of privacy was explicitly expounded by the Court, which has since been refined in numerous decisions. The activities that have received various levels of legal protection include the lawyer client privilege, the doctor/patient relationship, the confessional of the Catholic Church, and the prohibition of one spouse being forced to bear witness against another. In the market, businesses have the right, and even the legal obligation to protect trade secrets from would be competitors, and the media, though often contested, has the right to protect its information sources. With this in mind, secrecy of various levels and in various forms is an integral and important aspect of our existing system. There is a great deal of debate today on the impact of technology and interconnectedness on personal privacy and anonymity.

Interestingly, while there have been the increasing cries for greater transparency on the part of governments, businesses and other large institutions there has simultaneously been a vast amount of popular dialogue on the right of individuals to keep secrets from these same institutions. This effort appears to be in response to the increasing technological abilities by these organizations and other individuals to access personal information. This may well be due to the perception that individual secrets are under more imminent threat than those of larger organizations, or it may be motivated by an increasing perception/recognition of an asymmetric access to information which is by its very nature inequitable. With this in mind, the advancements in information technology over the past several decades have several distinct impacts in the area of information both for the individual and institutions. First, it has allowed an incredible increase in the volume of information, the rate of exchange and the transmission of information, much of which is of suspect validity. It has aided in the advancement of research so that the pace of newly acquired information in all areas has advanced rapidly; in fact, so rapidly that ever increasing specialization is required in fields so that depth and breadth of information become almost mutually exclusive. Information technology has also enabled the storage of vast amounts of information into ever smaller spatial volumes, and allowed for the oft cited global interconnectedness.

More to follow, and of course the right to revise and re-edit at will, which I think it needs...

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