Up until my graduate studies Government documents has never been a field that I really grasped. Now I am excited and thrilled to learn about the changes taking place, the current history, and how we as citizen can be involved.
I recently watched a lecture by Steven Aftergood, through the University of Pittsburgh, entitled: “Government Secrecy”. To summarize, he contends that there are 3 levels of unofficial Government classification schemes: genuine, political, and bureaucratic. Genuine refers to military secrets and strategies, political refer to anything a Government official does and keeps hidden for the purpose of protecting their image and/or to protect them from issues that could arise if the information were public, and bureaucratic refers to classifying anything and everything because they can, they are used to it, and it seems easier than making it public.
While Government classification is necessary, protecting the identities of CIA agents and locations of troops, it does seriously hinder progress and Government transparency. Secrecy has tried to hide the use of foreign prisons and Government corruption; and it continues to cover the amount of privacy violated in back-room wire-taps at AT&T, Verizon, and other telecommunications companies. A great example, provided by Aftergood, of Government secrecy gone bad is that a Navy document on laundry and laundry machines on a ship is classified but a user manual on shoulder powered rocket launchers is not.
You can hear more from the man himself on this 2006 lecture, podcast and video available: http://uc.princeton.edu/main/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=776
To stay updated on Government information I highly recommend these blogs to RSS:
http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/ (Aftergood’s blog)