Billy Zhang

an undergraduate student,

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Which is more important, right to know or state secrets?

Nowadays, we have a stronger right consciousness and pay more attention to the politics and other state's affairs.Right to know is extremly important in our political life as we want to know what the government actually does and whether they could benefit us or not.Now, it comes to the question.If there is something related to the national security, is it appropriate for people have the access to know some details about it?If the anwser is yes, how to keep the country in safe and if no, how to guarantee people's right to know if the government declares that some fundermental affairs are top sercret, which actually keeps citizens out of the political life.Look forward to your opinions!

  • Nov 18 2013: The gov't here is, (or "used-to-be"), a public service. As our servant, we should not be kept-from what it knows how we can continue surviving with all our rights intact.
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      Nov 18 2013: can you explain the total lack of outrage then? because it does not strike me like politicians lose their voter base because they don't support transparency enough. even worse, i see people continue to support the politicians that established the secretive systems in the first place. so it seems that the government serves the public the best if they continue to keep secrets.
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    Nov 6 2013: I think we need to accept that every nation spies on every other nation's government / business. If they don't, it's because they don't yet have the technology to do so, not because they have an ethical aversion to spying.

    At least if we all have this opinion there will be less hypocrisy.. For years, USA has been criticising China for spying - it's all smoke and mirrors.

    On the funny side, my grandmother (she was very old - 92 when she passed) always used to reply "Good night" to the TV news reader at the end of the late night news. As kids, we used to giggle, saying "Silly Nana, he can't hear you! :-)",
    She always answered "You should always talk about people as though they can hear you." How wise!
    • Nov 6 2013: Recognize it, yes... accept it... not so sure... especially under the context of getting entangled into neighbors businesses/problems... of course we also need to figure out when its appropriate for 'neighbors' to intervene into what's going on across the fence (especially when stuff there smells all over the place).

      ON the funny side... grandma was quite ahead of her time... now days 'tv' can hear you! The only secrets that remain secrets are the ones one actually keeps secret. What one says, does in private conversations can become public stuff with a click of a button! sometimes even without one...
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    Nov 5 2013: This makes no sense. There is no inherent "good" or "bad" in knowing or not knowing (secret). It all depends on the context.
    But let's follow your line of thinking. Apparently you believe the state shouldn't have any secrets. Now, if that is so, we also should be able to expect that you don't keep any secrets as well.
    So, I should assume that you have no problem sharing your secrets and confidential information with the whole world, right ?
    • Nov 6 2013: Harald,

      on the context: I tend to focus on certain stories being put forth and promoted within additional stories. I also tend to 'jump at such act' with a kind of 'injunction' often in the form of a exigent alternative story that basically implies 'wait a second there' lets look a bit closer at what just happened to see its validity. One of those stories has to do with 'balance' because it is closely linked to the notion of dualities. Another of those stories has to do with choosing the 'either-or' form instead of 'one-and-the other' form. There are others underlying stories. For example subtle possessive power shifting claims that seek to project what one thinks/feels/does into reality or seek to shift ones own responsibility from the matter. Group think and 'victims mentality'. Of course its easy to get sidetracked into a tangential storyline being put forth and easy to loose sight of the topic at hand.

      My line of thinking into what is important here involves both the right to know coupled with reserved prudence. In other words certain information does needs to be shared with the appropriate care without that implying that oversight oversights wrongful actions. Ultimately I believe there are no secrets each is held accountable for what they do (and not do)... of course maybe not in this life time...
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        Nov 6 2013: " Ultimately I believe there are no secrets each is held accountable for what they do (and not do)... of course maybe not in this life time..."
        This lifetime is the only one we have until somebody proves me otherwise.
        Probably secrets cannot be hold secret for an indefinite time. This might very possibly be true, however, the attempt to keep something secret is legit.
        Example: would you post your credit card numbers, pin codes, password on the internet for everybody to use to his desire ?
        If you rick like most of us, you probably won't. So you are keeping a secret
        The same is true for governments. Do you think it would be wise for a govt. to publish it's missile launch codes for everybody to see ?
        So, secrets are necessary for a number of reason. The only question there is, is where to draw the line.
        • Nov 6 2013: "the attempt to keep something secret is legit"...
          to sort of use something you said: that is not inherent .... It depends on the context.
          Of course I would not post on internet certain stuff nor would expect others to do it... I think the topic here about government secrets vs right to know has to do with a bit of clandestine activities and errors that the government wants to keep unknown. For example existing radiation levels and other sensitive information related to deceases, contamination, etc...

          just to add a note I am just speculating on these matters for myself I lack such informational or knowledge of specific cases. I just have seen on the news from time to time certain situations exposed which leads me not to be surprised about these practices taking place.
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        Nov 6 2013: Esteban, this discussion doesn't refer to any particular event but posts the question in general terms.
        Sure, whether to keep something secret depends on the context. No argument here.
        Without having all the data points I find it very difficult to pinpoint as to what degree something should be kept as a secret.
        This brings us back to my initial statement where I said it's about maintaining a balance. A balance of secrets that are kept for the sake of the common good and the right of knowledge.
        • Nov 6 2013: From where I stand I do not see how this takes us back to maintaining a balance it seems more like taking us to determining when something ought to remain unknown and when it ought to be known... A 'whatchamacallit' we use to determine what secrets are kept secret and what knowledge becomes of the public record for individuals to scrutinize. This evidently has the little inconvenience of - having all the data points to pinpoint as to what degree something should be kept a secret requiring that one know the secret itself. Then there are the cases where new more efficient cleaner market changes technologies get suppressed dew to 'security' reasons.

          Ideally the 'whatchamacallit' would keep secret what ought to be kept secret and expose what ought to be exposed while never being able to be misused by anyone individual government corporation or whatever... Easier said than done.
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        Nov 6 2013: I see, your quarrel is with the term balance.
        That aside we seem to agree.
        I agree some kind of independent and unbiased oversight (if that even exists) should decide what is to be kept secret and what not.
        • Nov 6 2013: Indeed, some terms, claims and stories 'make me cringe, quarrel and ' spring into action :-)

          Well actually its more along the lines that I choose to act and respond with an antidote when certain stuff be presented...

          Yes we do seem to agree that - some kind of independent and unbiased oversight should decide what is to be kept... what is to be shared... what is to be done! For some individuals that would correspond to each one's individual conscience... That inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior... in practice some have muted that voice to do whatever rather than what ought to be done...
  • Nov 5 2013: I wonder about this often, I usually think that people should have the right to know all things, all truth, and anyone who is hindering this is obviously guilty of something and so they desire the details of it hidden.

    I admit though that I can see many scenarios when certain information could be misunderstood by large portions of the population, especially if it is technical in nature. This could lead to dangerous attitudes developing out of ignorance instead of any real understanding.

    Conclusively though, I must say, transparency is of the up most importance as it allows for innocence or guilt being decided by any observer and out of real information, not a view portrayed or skewed by censorship.
    • Nov 5 2013: Individual observers decide with or without real observations someone being guilty or innocent and to condemn them justly or unjustly ... what allows this is individual freedoms... some stories and beliefs bind and constrain these freedoms though these freedoms remain even when not used and believed inexistent.
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    Nov 5 2013: Much of your question is dependent upon the type of government that is in place in your country. In communist / socialist countries much of the media is controlled so it is not as much a choice as it is what you will be exposed to. In these societies it is important that you be indoctrinated into a certain thought process. In todays world this is harder to enforce because of cell phones and computers.

    In democratic governments there is some degree of the freedom of speech / press. We have the expectation of a transparent government. We hold our leadership to higher standards. We have recently found out that there is much being withheld and deliberate lies and misdirection by the leadership and the media. They have lied to the world and to the US citizens in no small measure.

    Now to the heart of the issue. The majority of both societies are satisfied with the status quo. Everyday we find out something else that went really wrong / lies, unethical, and irresponsible political actions both foreign and domestic. Yet the favorable rating is still at about 50%. It was known in 2010 that 75% of all people would lose their insurance under Obamacare yet even today they are saying no problem you can keep your coverage as millions are being cancelled. 23 new taxes are included in Obamacare yet we are ensured it ain't so. NSA is only looking out for our interests ... we have no foreign policy or diplomacy ... even our close allies are leaving our side ... we are 17 trillion in debit with no plans to balance the budget .... yet the approval rating is still near 50%.

    So what does this prove. The leaders of nations really do not care what we think or want. They think we are all stupid and we go out of our way to prove them right. Just as we get really worked up over drones, spying, lying, Bengasi, diplomatic stupidities, and a economy in the crapper, we are redirected to another issue and all else is forgotten.

    ANSWER: Apathy wins.

    Be well Bob.
    • Nov 5 2013: I once heard a joke about countries that control much of their media...
      The intelligent ones let their citizens believe that they have freedoms of speech/press and transparency when in fact much control exists... as the saying goes the worst blindness involves the one who refuses to see and the worst enslavement involves the ones who believe to be free while choosing to remain enslaved...
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        Nov 5 2013: We in the USA are arriving here quickly. Thanks for the reply.. Bob.
        • Nov 5 2013: Well considering the joke I heard a while back implied being there for quite some time without most realizing it was what kept individuals working towards 'their' goals ... I would say been there, done that now its time to actually do what ought to be done as it ought to be done... :-) lets get something better once and for all ...
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        Nov 5 2013: Esteban, Not knowing where you are from is a real handicap in responding. You imply that there is something better .... better than what you have (where ever that is) or better than what I have (USA) the answer is most likely both.

        What would you suggest as the "better" ... is it a form of government .... or those holding office and keep the form of government ...

        To talk apples to apples ... where are you?????

        Thanks. Bob.
        • Nov 5 2013: Bob,

          Note that not knowing where someone is from keeps us focused on the topic at hand, what does it matter if the truth is said by a child or a grownup here or there when each seeks to cultivate the truth? Yes I implied that there is something better... I think logically that be the case besides based on observing what we have here there must evidently be better alternatives :-); what I am also alluring to is that its not what I, you or others consider to be better, it is what actually happens to be better, that ought to be done. I am using 'what be better' as a definitive constitutive condition that sort of transcends competing comparative dualistic comparisons and individualistic stances. It would be similar to stating that whomever is right is right and whomever is wrong is wrong kind of thing without getting into the details of who happens to be right.

          My suggestion is that each do what they ought to do based on what ought to be done. Which begs the question "what ought to be done"? I realize that responding: well evidently 'what ought to be done based on what ought to be done' provides an rather cryptic answer similar to: those who know, know and know it while those who don't know, don't know and don't know it. Still I believe that in sustaining the dialogue each can discover the truth of what ought to be done. I think that what ought to be done involves sustainable desirable congruent with life practices. The truth passes this while lies do not. Being reserved and prudent depending on the circumstances may pass or not.

          Sometimes to talk to apples and avocados one has to just talk to the fruits that include them both and others, especially when needing do deal with parasitic insects that feed upon such fruits trees!

          Live in Northamerica...
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        Nov 6 2013: Esteban, I am sincere when I say to you that there are many decafs that taste as good as regular coffee ......

        Bob.
        • Nov 6 2013: I am sure some who drink the decaf thinking its regular will even get their caffeine palliative and taste it just as if it where regular coffee ... all under the influence of their central nervous system... I think its even possible that they will have the physical reactions as if they got the stimulant itself...

          Just thought about how 'secrets' may relate to 'keep the vision going, till you make it' and how that relates to keep the farce going as long as possible
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    Nov 5 2013: There should be a balance. There always will be state secrets as there are secrets in companies and even between people. Usually there are good reasons for these secrets.
    However, sometimes keeping secrets goes too far.
    I think it's difficult to find a fair balance between keeping secrets and make information public, especially, since once an information is public everybody will have access to it, something that's not always desirable for obvious reasons.
    • Nov 5 2013: Why should there be a balance?
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        Nov 5 2013: Why should there be not ? What is wrong with a balance ?
        • Nov 5 2013: Because a bias towards right and good be better than a prejudice towards right and good.
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        Nov 5 2013: Bias to me sounds like a distortion of facts. So what is good about that ?
        You didn't mention what view you support.
        • Nov 5 2013: I thought it was quite evident that I support what be right and good and better especially given I used some of those words twice in my response. A 'prejudice' in favor of what be right and good just seems self evident better and good. Given a choice between 'a balance of good and bad' 'a bias towards good' 'a bias towards bad (which can be state as a prejudice agains good)' I am inclined to pick good... I think one can know good by knowing good just as one can know what is true by knowing what is true. This also has the added benefit that one can discern if something corresponds to what is true good or to something else. In the case when one knows what isn't true one does not have this same benefit.

          Should we balance the right to knowing juxtaposed to state secrets or just have the right to know certain state secrets that ought to be known by all?
  • Nov 4 2013: Would one choose a different course of action based on what one knows? Would knowing the truth of the matter change what one does? On a more fundamental level why the need for Secrets? I believe this has to do with scarce resources allocation economy where knowing leads to desires and actions where as ignorance keeps individuals passive because they do not even know about certain possibilities. Secrets seek to protect individual ways of being (which could be for good or for bad). What to know, what to keep secret and why would be more in line with my vision of reality.
  • Nov 4 2013: This conversation looks familiar...

    http://www.ted.com/conversations/20591/should_a_country_government_gi.html

    Still, I'll give a brief answer either way.
    Depends on the topic. Most things should be made as transparent as possible, mostly to force the system to run efficiently, while making corruption more difficult. Public exposure is one of the best weapons against bureaucratic over-inflation and misspent budgets (I always prefer a practical justification as opposed to some high ideal like "the people's right to know").

    Security matters and diplomatic dirty laundry on the other hand, are a completely different matter. What you expose to the public here should be carefully considered, seeing as you're working against other entities that may well make harmful use of that knowledge you release. I'm not calling for a total blackout here, but some secrets need be kept.
    It also means you have to have twice as many internal efforts to make sure the systems run properly, because there will be much less outside scrutiny. This is where the system is usually weakest, unfortunately...
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    Nov 4 2013: Those who decide to give up freedom for security, deserve to have neither.
    • Nov 18 2013: So you're saying there should be no laws? This seems silly, we have to sacrifice some freedom, or there will be literal anarchy.