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108 New Patents Kept Secret, 4,942 “Secrecy Orders” in Effect
In 2006, the federal government closed the lid on 108 patents. Overall, that brings the total number of inventions kept under “secrecy orders” to 4,942.
This creeping secrecy is all the more surprising because as the US government's eavesdropping and code-breaking arm - which is thought to harness some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to decode intercepted communications - the NSA will have detailed knowledge of what should be kept secret and what should not. So it is unlikely to file patents that give away secrets.
Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and computer security expert with Counterpane Internet Security in California, finds the development “fascinating”.
“It's surprising that the Pentagon is becoming more secretive than the NSA. While I am generally in favour of openness in all branches of government, the NSA has had decades of experience with secrecy at the highest levels,” Schneier told New Scientist. “The fact that the Pentagon is classifying things that the NSA believes should be public is an indication of how much secrecy has crept into government over the past few years.”
OpenTheGovernment.org’s fourth annual report, Secrecy Report Card 2007, shows both a continued expansion of government secrecy across a broad array of agencies and actions and some, limited, movement toward more openness and accountability.
While every administration wants to control access to information about its policies and practices, information created by or for the federal government belongs to the American public and should be open (except in strictly limited and specified contexts). As this principle is often honored more in the breach than in the observance, public access to government information has varied over time.
The current administration has exercised an unprecedented level not only of restriction of access to information about federal government’s policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies, their underpinnings, and their implications. It has also increasingly refused to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress. These practices inhibit democracy and our representative government; neither the public nor Congress can make informed decisions in these circumstances. Our open society is undermined and made insecure.