Government secrecy is at odds with basic democratic principles. As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in 1936, “an informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment.”

Yet today, much of our government’s business is conducted in secret. There are a multitude of secret agencies, secret committees of Congress, a secret court, and even secret laws. This sprawling—and growing—secret establishment presents an active threat to individual liberty and undermines the very notion of government of, by, and for the people.

Nowhere is government secrecy more out of control than in the national security context. For almost a decade, the American public has been told time and time again that some of our governments most controversial national security policies and programs are secret.” The government has tried to keep us in the dark about the fact that it was secretly spying on all Americans, secretly torturing people, and secretly killing its own citizens on the basis of its secret interpretations of the law. 

The ACLU fights for a democracy that is accountable to the public, the courts, and Congress. Secrecy endangers us all, eroding the checks and balances that a healthy democracy requires. As the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit put it in an ACLU challenge to secret court hearings, “Democracies die behind closed doors.”

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