Opinion: The Dark Side of Government in the Sunshine

Like motherhood, ice cream and the all-expenses-paid vacation, seemingly everybody should like transparency in government. The specter of elected or unelected officials making decisions behind closed doors conjures up visions of corruption and would seem to signify government on behalf of private interests. For this reason, most democratic governments, to varying degrees, now operate under various laws and rules intended to promote openness.

As a card-carrying good-government type, I am supposed to like transparency, and I generally do think it's a good thing. Certainly there are real downsides to secrecy and backroom deals. There are many positive effects that can come from subjecting public processes to greater scrutiny and from requiring the disclosure of processes and data. Transparency itself, however, is not without its pitfalls. So what's wrong with government in the sunshine? Here are a few of my concerns:

• Freedom of information laws can become excuses for not disclosing information. All freedom of information acts (FOIAs) contain exceptions — that is, lists (in some cases long ones) of categories of information that a government is not required to provide to the public. There are strong justifications, such as privacy concerns, for many of these exceptions. They can, however, become an excuse for secrecy or (since FOIAs normally give the government specific deadlines for response to requests) delaying action on FOIA inquiries. Continue>>>