It is hard to think of a political good that is more universally praised than government transparency. Whereas secrecy shelters corruption, abuse of power, undue influence and a host of other evils, transparency allows citizens to keep their rulers accountable. Or that is the theory.
It is clear that there are vast areas in which modern governments should reveal more. Edward Snowden’s revelations of eavesdropping by the National Security Agency has encouraged belief that the US government has been not nearly transparent enough. But is it possible to have too much transparency? The answer is clearly yes: demands for certain kinds of transparency have hurt government effectiveness, particularly with regard to its ability to deliberate.
The US has a number of statutes mandating transparency passed decades ago in response to perceived government abuses, and motivated by perfectly reasonable expectations that the government should operate under greater scrutiny. Yet they have had a number of unfortunate consequences.
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