In 1966 the United States Congress passed the landmark Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) giving the public the right to access government documents. This "right to know" has been used over the intervening years to challenge overreaching Presidents and secretive government agencies. This example of governmental transparency has served as an inspiring case in point to nations around the world, spawning similar statutes in fifty-nine countries. Yet, despite these global efforts to foster openness in government, secrecy still persists--and in many cases--sometimes thrives. Alasdair Roberts, a prominent lawyer, public policy expert, and international authority on transparency in government, examines the evolution of the trend toward governmental openness and how technological developments have assisted the disclosure and dissemination of information. In the process he offers a comprehensive look at the global efforts to restrict secrecy and provides readers with a clearly written guide to those areas where the battle over secrecy is most intense. Drawing on cases from many different countries, Roberts goes further than the popular view that secrecy is simply a problem of selfish bureaucrats trying to hide embarrassing information by showing how such powerful trends as privatization, globalization, and the "networking" of security agencies are complicating the fight against secrecy. In our time when new terror threats provoke potentially counter-productive measures that impede openness, the need for a thorough and dispassionate discussion of openness in democratic societies is especially acute. Written in an engaging style, Blacked Out powerfully illustrates why transparency matters and why the struggle for openness is so difficult. Alasdair Roberts is Associate Professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. An internationally-recognized specialist on open government, he has written over thirty journal articles and book chapters. He is a 2005 recipient of the Johnson Award for Best Paper in Ethics and Accountability in the Public Sector. He has been a fellow of the Open Society Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, and is a member of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue's Transparency Task Force.
1. The glass case; Part I. Context: 2. Secrecy and security; 3. Gulliver; 4. Message discipline; 5. Soft states; Part II. Structure: 6. Opaque networks; 7. The corporate evil; 8. Remote control; Part III. Technology: 9. Liquid paper; Part IV. Conclusion: 10. We like to watch; Notes.
Winner, 2007 Charles H. Levine Award, International Political Science Association
Winner, 2007 Public Administration Research Section Award, American Society for Public Administration
Winner, 2007 Best Book Award, Public and Nonprofit Division of the Academy of Management
Winner, 2006 Louis Brownlow Book Award, National Academy of Public Administration
Alasdair Roberts' Blacked Out is a fast-paced, well-informed and engrossing account of the emergence of a worldwide movement to hold governments accountable by requiring them to disclose information they would rather withhold to conceal corruption, bureaucratic incompetence, environmental degradation, human rights abuses and other misconduct. It is essential reading for proponents of open societies.
-Aryeh Neier, President, Open Society Institute
"Alasdair Roberts has written a monumentally important book, not only about secrecy and the right-to-know movement, but about the deeply troubling 'ethic of detachment' and quiescence of the American public. What good is significant information about abuses of power if there is no accountability, if no one acts on that information?"
-Charles Lewis, President, The Fund for Independence in Journalism
"Professor Roberts provides keen insights into the power struggle over secretiveness in supranational institutions...Blacked Out makes it crystal clear that the game has changed drastically when it comes to guarding citizens' right to information about the activities conducted by governments and their private surrogates."
-Doris Graber, University of Illinois
"Blacked Out, is an accessible and detailed account of the rise and partial fall of the information disclosure culture in governments around the world."
-Craig Forcese, Ottawa Law Review
"Roberts describes the tactics that politicians and bureaucrats have used to preserve government secrecy, explains how profound changes in the structure of government-notably privatization of public services-are complicating campaigns for openness, and notes how new information technologies sometimes enhance openness, but sometimes create barriers."