National Freedom of Information Coalition
Protecting Your Right to Open Government

Opinion: Government ‘transparency’ has gone too far

by Mitch Daniels to the Washington Post

Dave Eggers’s 2013 novel “The Circle” depicts a world where demands for “openness” annihilate privacy and personal autonomy, creating a dystopian nightmare. Public officials in the tale try to outdo each other in going “clear” by wearing body cameras and microphones every waking moment. For most readers, the book is farfetched science fiction, but for those active in public life, Eggers’s conception doesn’t seem all that implausible.

It’s hard to determine when too much of a good thing becomes truly too much. And the more laudable the goal, the harder it generally is to reel in the excess, because any suggested retrenchment is viewed as an abandonment of the goal itself. At the risk of being misconstrued, I venture the heretical thought that we have overshot in the pursuit of governmental “openness” and “transparency.”

There’s no question that American government at all levels is better off for the open-door and open-record reforms of the past half-century. Knowing that the public is watching, public officials generally behave more responsibly in the conduct of their duties.

I’m a true believer. As the director of the Office of Management and Budget in the early 2000s, I worked in perhaps surprising collaboration with Ralph Nader to open the federal government’s contracting process to broader public inspection. During my service in Indiana as governor from 2005 to 2013, we made similar changes as a part of wider ethics reforms.

But even water has a fatal dosage level. Too much exercise can be unhealthy. Attempts to eliminate almost all forms of confidential interaction in government come with downsides. (Read more…)