secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Types of Secrecy

As suggested in Government Secrecy,  secrecy categories are little explored in the popular and academic literature. This is puzzling as there are many types of secrecy suggested by bureaucratic culture, business  practices, protection of proprietary information,  national security, and numerous other conditions that involve information and knowledge production.

While many types of secrecy seem to involve Georg Simmel and philosopher Sissela Bok‘s  notion of secrecy as “intentional concealment” and power over information,  there is more going on under the hood.  I suggest in Government Secrecy as well as in this post,  we need to expand our study of secrecy, especially refining definitions.

There are several types of secrecy. I can’t list them all here, but as examples,  Susan Wright and David A. Wallace write of  a “biotech secrecy system” that suggest biotechnology secrecy; NAFTA with its Chapter 11-authorized tribunals brings to mind a secrecy category that might be labeled trade secrecy; biowarfare secrecy arises out of the secret national security-military-university-corporate complex; intelligence budget secrecy; presidential secrecy, which came to the public’s attention during the Bush administration; state secrets; litigation secrecy; and nuclear secrecy takes into account the legal ramifications of disclosing information under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. In 1999,  Steve Aftergood, Project Director for the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, ambitiously characterized several categories of secrecy: genuine national security secrecy, political secrecy, and bureaucratic secrecy (p.19-20, above link).

However, none of these types of secrecy are entirely pure. Hybridization occurs, such as with environmental secrecy (not fully characterized in the environmental lit by the way),whichspills over into military secrecy and trade secrecy, institutionalized by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and its  confidential business information:

…means trade secrets and commercial or financial information which are obtained from a person and are privileged or confidential, as set forth in 5 U.S.C. 552(b) and 29 CFR part 70.

So I offer the idea that each category of secrecy has its own dynamics in terms of theory, history, philosophy, sociology, and politics and there is much work to be done to flesh out these categories.


Written by S.

January 17, 2009 at 2:39 am

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hi!


    By profession, I’m a reporter for a community newspaper.
    In our town, the big secrecy issue is police information.
    The new top cop is also a lawyer.
    80% of the case detail requests we make are denied for several different reasons.
    We know this is horse shit but it becomes a stand-off.
    We pound away at the PD in the editorial pages.
    Reality is the chief knows that he can do anything he wants and the only real recourse we have is to sue which takes a good lawyer which takes lots of money.
    As a result, the community loses its right to know.

    Any suggestions?


    January 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    • Thanks for commenting and sharing your story.

      I’d agree that law enforcement secrecy is an additional category.

      I’m not a lawyer, but would recommend if you haven’t done so already, to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to your PD. Most cities have an open records legislation that serves as FOIA. As a journalist you may even receive a fee waiver under your city’s provisions. If you check the links menu (right menu) of the blog, you’ll see further info on FOIA.

      In 2002, ACLU was instrumental in helping activists use Denver’s Open Records Act in what has become known as the Spy Files. Perhaps a consultation with them might help?


      January 17, 2009 at 7:13 pm

  2. Yes, we’ve used he FOIA, same response. They respond citing statutes that say releasing this information is not in the public’s interest, public good…..


    January 19, 2009 at 3:27 am

Comments are closed.