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Keynote Speech from National FOI Day Conference

The First Amendment Center posted the full-text of the 2008 National FOI Day Conference’s keynote speech, “A New Balancing Test: How Excessive Classification Undermines National Security” by J. William Leonard, former chief of the Information Security Oversight Office.

Leonard quipped that his remarks on government secrecy would be his most candid, “a sort of ‘Leonard Unplugged’ if you will for those of you into the MTV scene”. He discussed instances of excessive secrecy that produced serious consequences, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, stating, “Secrecy comes at a price – sometimes a deadly price – often through its impact upon the decision-making process”.

He also proposed a new way for government officials to determine whether information needs to be classified in the interest of national security; what he calls the “New Balancing Test”:

“We are long familiar with what many regard as the “traditional” balancing test of national security versus openness – of secrecy versus transparency. Instead, the balancing test of which I talk is more along the lines of national security versus national security; i.e. what will cause greater damage to national security, the disclosing or withholding of specific information”.

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