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What is Deep Secrecy?

March 22, 2010

Deep secrets are secrets that “we do not know that we do not know,” writes David Pozen for the Stanford Legal Workshop.

Pozen’s theoretical piece explores the nuances of government secrecy, provides examples of deep secrets, and suggests methods for mitigating their harm to society.

Deep secrets are especially important to FOIA requesters since it is difficult for us to request information that we do not know exists. Shallow secrets—secrets which we have gleaned some aspects of—are much easier to attain through the FOIA than deep, unknown secrets.

Although deep secrets may be necessary for national security, Pozen argues these secrets are inherently at odds with American democratic values and the Constitution. To mitigate this harm, Pozen suggests general (not specific) disclosure of secret activities and inter-branch and inter-agency oversight of secret activities when possible.

Despite Pozen’s proposed remedies, his conclusion—”That there is vast space between total public exposure and maximal internal stealth, between sunlight and darkness”—remains very troubling for freedom of information advocates.

Pozen’s full post at the Stanford Legal Workshop is well worth a read: http://legalworkshop.org/2010/03/21/deep-secrecy.

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