“As our guide to the history of government secrecy and transparency, Mitch Pearlman takes us on an informative personal journey from Connecticut to South Africa, from ancient Egypt to modern China. With unparalleled expertise and experience, he brings the world of freedom of information alive for his readers; he also challenges us to remain vigilant lest we lose ground in the battle against secrecy.”

Thomas M. Susman, Director, Governmental Affairs Office, American Bar Association

 

“Mitch Pearlman spent more than 30 years on the front lines of the battle to provide citizens with the information they need to make educated choices at the ballot box. He knows better than anyone in the country the role truthful information about the operations of government plays in a democracy. Citizens should read this book and learn from it.”

Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

 

“Mitchell Pearlman provides a clear and powerful story about the need for open government -- and the obstacles to achieving transparency in practice. This book is open to everyone, just as government should be.”

Alasdair Roberts, Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy, Suffolk University Law School and author of Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age

 

“When discussing freedom of information, whether it’s here in the United States, or for that matter, anywhere in the world, Mitchell Pearlman’s name inevitably is mentioned. Pearlman has a world of experience, and his knowledge and relationships have made him a legend in the area of open government and transparency. There is nobody better qualified to share his views about Freedom of Information than Mitchell Pearlman.”

Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director, New York State’s Committee on Open Government

Your Title Text

Piercing the Veil of Secrecy:

Lessons in the Fight for Freedom of Information

Why Write This Book?

            My professional life has coincided with profound changes throughout the world. I’ve witnessed and participated in the reforms that resulted from the “Watergate” scandals – including implementation of landmark Freedom of Information legislation. I’ve witnessed the electronic information revolution and helped develop and implement public policy for government electronic information on the state and national levels. And I’ve witnessed the international movements toward democracy and transnationalism and helped nations aspiring to achieve these goals adopt government transparency, ethics and anti-corruption measures.

            As a senior government official, I’ve observed the administrations of five Connecticut Governors. In a sense, they’re a microcosm of governments everywhere. I’ve also had the opportunity to observe the government of the United States, as well as those of a host of individual states, and – in some small measure – to influence their laws and the practices of their governmental bodies. And I’ve had the opportunity to observe the governments of a number of countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Oceania and Asia, and – again in some small way – to influence their laws and practices.

            This experience has given me a greater understanding of the world.  It helped me better understand history and geography, the social, political and cultural differences among different peoples, and the common humanity that binds all of us together.  It also helped me understand the conditions that are favorable and unfavorable for a successful Freedom of Information regime.

            Piercing the Veil of Secrecy is a reflection on the lessons I’ve learned – and the major issues and events that I believe must be addressed – in the continuing fight for Freedom of Information. I’ve tried to write this book not merely for lawyers and government officials, but rather for a general audience of readers who seek a better understanding of what Freedom of Information is all about and who wish to achieve greater government transparency and accountability – whether as citizens, members of civil society or indeed, as government officials. Thus, this book isn’t written as a treatise for legal scholars or professors of political science. It’s written for those who want to take the fight for Freedom of Information forward during the current century.

            The book itself is divided into three parts. The first provides a core understanding of what Freedom of Information is about, from what circumstances it derives, what kinds of issues it can address, and what regimes have been designed to enforce it.

            The second part looks at the most significant common problems facing all Freedom of Information regimes. It also illustrates some important lessons I’ve learned along the way in dealing with these problems.

            The third part of the book focuses on the future. It presents the Twenty-first Century landscape for Freedom of Information and concludes with my vision of – and predictions for – the future of this basic human right.

            I hope that those who read the book – whether from Connecticut, the United States, or from other parts of the world – will apply the lessons described in these pages to the ongoing fight for Freedom of Information and good government everywhere. These lessons, I believe, will help future generations pierce the veil of government secrecy.

 

What Others Are Saying About
Piercing the Veil of Secrecy:
Lessons in the Fight for Freedom of Information

            “Mitchell Pearlman is widely viewed as a unique resource in the international access to information community. In this thought-provoking discussion of the principles, practices and challenges of realizing freedom of information in the United States and around the world, he brings to bear over 30 years of front-line experience in establishing and implementing one of the most innovative sub-national FOI systems in the United States, together with years of consulting with officials and civil society groups from other state governments and foreign governments on the design and operation of diverse FOI regimes. We are truly fortunate to have Pearlman as an advocate in the ongoing fight to realize and maintain freedom of information.”

Jamie P. Horsley, Deputy Director, China Law Center and Senior Research Scholar and Lecturer in Law, Yale law School

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            “Mitchell Pearlman’s book is a powerful argument for the centrality of the right to information to democratic societies. Based on his unparalleled work in Connecticut as executive director and general counsel of the Freedom of Information Commission and then internationally, it shows how the right to information has lain at the heart of the development of democracy in the United States (and throughout the world). Documenting key issues, including the challenges we face in the C21st with the digitalisation of information and the opportunities (and threats) this poses, Mitch’s book is the perfect introduction to why openness and information lies at the centre of a civilised life and why it is essential if human society is to tackle the formidable tasks ahead. It is also – in its unassuming way - a testimony to a good life lived in pursuit of a goal that enriches all of us.”

Andrew Puddephatt, OBE, Director, Global Partners & Associates Ltd and former Executive Director, Article 19

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            “I find it quite extraordinary that someone’s memoirs could also turn out to be the history of the conquest of a fundamental right. But this is what happens with the author of this book. To read the lessons Pearlman lays out in this book is to learn about the key debates in the struggle to make the right to information an indispensable element of the citizen as the center of modern democracies. And vice versa: to study in depth the evolution, obstacles, victories, and debates of the last 34 years concerning open government and overcoming the veil of government secrecy, is to share with Pearlman the history of his concerns, his thinking and the inexhaustible fight for the ideals of his life.

            Pearlman warns us now, at the conclusion of his long and fruitful professional journey, that it is necessary to continue the struggle to advance and to defend the freedom of information, because there is a paradoxical threat: that democracy might begin to fail due to the invasion of the sort of information that is as distracting and manipulated as it is superficial and useless in today’s societies, populated by citizens characterized by apathy and indifference and dominated by unaccountable elites. After reading this book, I find I share his optimism on the outcome of this new threat, and I will be referring to this book often, as the textbook of outstanding arguments and proofs of freedom of information, and as the best defense in the face of its multiple adversaries. In this unending struggle, Pearlman provided us with essential proposals to foster a democracy where the people become, once again, truly and effectively, the origin of balanced government authority.”

Juan Pablo Guerrero Amparán, former Commissioner of Mexico’s Federal Access to Public Information Institute and currently a consultant at the International Budget Partnership in charge of its Mentoring Government Capacity for Budget Transparency and Participation program

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            “Piercing the Veil of Secrecy is an indispensable addition to the growing literature on the right of access to information. This book serves as a primer for all persons interested in freedom of information’s foundations, value and future. Focusing on today’s hot button issues, such as privacy, national security, and technology, Piercing the Veil of Secrecy helps establish and define transparency’s frontiers. For more than thirty years, Mitchell Pearlman has been in the forefront of the international struggle for the fundamental right of access to information, sharing the valuable lessons that he has learned and serving as a mentor to countless government officials and civil society advocates. This book, like its author, encourages all of us to set our sights high and to continue the fight for the “more perfect union” that a transparent and accountable government confers.”

Laura Neuman, Manager, Access to Information Project and Associate Director, The Carter Center