cover image Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age

Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age

Alasdair Roberts. Cambridge University Press, $36.99 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-521-85870-0

The conflict between expanding national security measures and preserving civil rights gets an extended examination in this timely history of the right to know. Lawyer and public policy scholar Roberts's occasionally exhausting book covers the right to know movement in a global and historical sense, touching on transparency movements and backlash domestically and internationally (the Freedom of Information Act's 1966 passing, Roberts notes, spurred the creation of similar laws in 60 countries) to show how governments across the world go to great lengths to dip, dodge, skirt and subvert openness laws. His account of the post-9/11 Bush administration depicts a secretive administration that bristles at attempts to reduce the secrecy under which it has conducted the war on terror. As Roberts demonstrates through countless examples, there are various ways for a government to subvert its own right-to-know laws without technically breaking any (classifying non-sensitive information, outsourcing operations, charging fees for information requests), sullying any optimism about the ""rhetoric of transparency"" that has been spreading as far as China in the past few decades. Roberts remains mindful that the ""right to know"" isn't a guarantee, but a struggle worth pursuing.