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.