Secrecy doesn’t stop terrorism

There was only one thing harder to find than a way home from central London yesterday and that was any kind of official information about what had happened. In the initial confusion after the explosions Thursday morning, keeping mum was understandable. Authorities don’t want to spread rumour. But by late afternoon, members of the public were still starved of official information. In the absence of reports from the authorities, the public relied heavily on the media who in turn relied on citizens who had witnessed the incidents first-hand. This was democracy in action.

Meanwhile, the authorities put few resources into public information, relying instead on the old belief in security through secrecy. We were told that the “London Emergency Plan” was put into effect, but no one actually knows what this is. Certainly not the public – and even many London doctors complained to Which? magazine last year that they didn’t know what their role was in this emergency plan.

In fact, secrecy is no guarantee of safety. And sharing accurate information with the public rarely causes panic or terrorist incidents. Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the Sept. 11 commission has stated the failure to prevent the 2001 attacks was rooted not in leaks of sensitive information but in the barriers to sharing information between agencies and with the public.

“We’re better off with openness,” he said. “The best ally we have in protecting ourselves against terrorism is an informed public.”

The government should realise this before passing reactionary laws that do little to stop terrorists but do infringe on the very freedoms that make our country great.

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