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The conflict between expanding national security measures and preserving civil rights gets an extended examination in this timely history of the right to know. Lawyer and public policy scholar Roberts's occasionally exhausting book covers the right to know movement in a global and historical sense, touching on transparency movements and backlash domestically and internationally (the Freedom of Information Act's 1966 passing, Roberts notes, spurred the creation of similar laws in 60 countries) to show how governments across the world go to great lengths to dip, dodge, skirt and subvert openness laws. His account of the post-9/11 Bush administration depicts a secretive administration that bristles at attempts to reduce the secrecy under which it has conducted the war on terror. As Roberts demonstrates through countless examples, there are various ways for a government to subvert its own right-to-know laws without technically breaking any (classifying non-sensitive information, outsourcing operations, charging fees for information requests), sullying any optimism about the "rhetoric of transparency" that has been spreading as far as China in the past few decades. Roberts remains mindful that the "right to know" isn't a guarantee, but a struggle worth pursuing.
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Alasdair Roberts' Blacked Out is a fast-paced, well-informed and engrossing account of the emergence of a worldwide movement to hold governments accountable by requiring them to disclose information they would rather withhold to conceal corruption, bureaucratic incompetence, environmental degradation, human rights abuses and other misconduct. It is essential reading for proponents of open societies.
-Aryeh Neier, President, Open Society Institute
"Alasdair Roberts has written a monumentally important book, not only about secrecy and the right-to-know movement, but about the deeply troubling 'ethic of detachment' and quiescence of the American public. What good is significant information about abuses of power if there is no accountability, if no one acts on that information?"
-Charles Lewis, President, The Fund for Independence in Journalism
"Professor Roberts provides keen insights into the power struggle over secretiveness in supranational institutions...Blacked Out makes it crystal clear that the game has changed drastically when it comes to guarding citizens' right to information about the activities conducted by governments and their private surrogates."
-Doris Graber, University of Illinois
"Blacked Out, is an accessible and detailed account of the rise and partial fall of the information disclosure culture in governments around the world."
-Craig Forcese, Ottawa Law Review
"Roberts describes the tactics that politicians and bureaucrats have used to preserve government secrecy, explains how profound changes in the structure of government-notably privatization of public services-are complicating campaigns for openness, and notes how new information technologies sometimes enhance openness, but sometimes create barriers."