Sunshine Week is a national event promoting the idea that transparent government is every bit as vital as the freedoms of speech and press. Examples of this are campaign contribution and lobbyist disclosure laws like California’s Political Reform Act. A tyranny can and does govern by fear, warning its subjects: Do as we say or we will take your livelihood, your property, your freedom or even your life. But a democracy governs by the consent of those governed. Persuasion is key. A democracy can persuade its people’s consent with the truth or it can persuade the people to consent with something less than the truth. But because secretive government can not only protect legitimate public and private interests but also provide cover for political deception and manipulation, secrecy laws need to be controlled by certain principles. A secrecy law should be well defined. Its justification should be clearly spelled out in the legislative process, with clear examples of what harms it is intended to avoid, and why other protections or measures are insufficient to the task. The law should cover no more information nor keep it secret for any longer a duration than necessary, and should allow for sunsets or reviews to determine if that point has passed with respect to particular information. Perhaps above all, any secrecy simply left up to the discretion of a particular person or agency should not extend beyond the incumbency of that official or beyond a brief span of years, whichever comes sooner. Finally, let’s acknowledge for Sunshine Week that governmental transparency not only supports effective speech and press but also, as a companion value to personal privacy, provides one touchstone of our wider liberties. As one of CalAware’s slogans state, “want to be free again? Know more about the Powers That Be than they know about you.” For more information about Sunshine Week, go to www.sunshineweek.org Terry Francke is general counsel for Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group. He can be reached by e-mail at: [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Speech and press are “free” only to the extent they are free to be informed as well as to communicate. For the first half of our Constitution’s history, the First Amendment was in place but simply ignored. The notion of real liberty to speak and report was not a legally enforceable right until the courts began overruling censorship in the 1920s. Since then, pre-emptive government gag orders have all but disappeared, especially in the realm of politics and public affairs. Most secrecy laws have plausible rationales, for example protecting the privacy of sensitive disclosures people have made to the government. The 9/11 attacks have led to other concerns for national security, prompting further secrecy. The California Public Records Act has a list of exceptions to the rule that government documents should be open to public exception.