In 1788, Alexander Hamilton said, "citizens . . . will stand ready to sound the alarm when necessary, and to point out the actors in any pernicious project. The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote inhabitants of the Union."
It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that government must be open and accessible to its citizens. Democracy requires citizens to make choices - primarily by voting - but citizens can carry out their duty only if they are informed and attentive. But it is impossible for U.S. citizens and residents to directly, immediately, and continuously observe each government act, decision, or process. Instead, a knowledgeable citizenry requires access to as much information about its government as possible: through a free press, a presumption of government openness, and access to public records and information about government actions.
Open government makes true civic participation possible. Excessive government secrecy, by contrast, imperils democracy. History has also proven that excessive government secrecy endangers individual liberty. Excessive government secrecy is notoriously used to cover up abuses and wrongdoing. While national security or other government interests might justify some limited secrecy in certain circumstances, secrecy in the name of national security has often been used shield illegal government action from scrutiny. Examples of unjustified or dangerous government secrecy abound:
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