Thursday, March 23, 2023
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Beware the insidious slide toward government secrecy




Another Sunshine Week — the annual celebration of government transparency — is here, and your right to know what the government does in your name is in a precarious position. Government is accountable to the people only so long as the people remain vigilant and fight for their right to know.

Overt efforts to implement secrecy abound. But Washington legislators and former Seattle mayors aren’t alone in wanting to keep the public in the dark. Others are just more subtle about it, and that makes them especially dangerous.

Look no further than presidents and vice presidents who take classified documents home. Whether intentional or unintentional, they withhold records that belong to the public, not to them. Transparency stretches into the future when historians will read declassified records to understand our time.

Look no further than a Congress that passes a gargantuan omnibus spending bill that it distributes only hours before the vote so no one has time to read it. If there’s anything that the radical right of the Republican Party gets right, it’s that lawmakers and the public deserve a chance to digest and comment on the federal budget. Transparency matters a lot less after the fact.

Look no further than a House speaker who shares video of the Jan. 6 riots only with a hand-picked propagandist, not the public and not the free press. Transparency should be for everyone.

And look no further than a Florida governor whose allies in that state’s legislature would help him stifle public speech. They hope to win a Supreme Court ruling that supports silence over public discourse. Transparency includes the public’s right to speak out about what it has learned.

Each of these incidents alone is problematic. Together, they represent something worse: an insidious slide toward secrecy that is lost in the political wrangling of the moment. No one objects, because no one notices. But if the public is vigilant, it can see shadows creeping in and act before it is too late.

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