What is more important in a democratic society, the right of citizens to be fully informed about government actions or government secrecy to carry out its policies?

The right of citizens to be informed about government actions is more important than the government's interest in maintaining secrecy about its actions. This is because informed decision-making is essential to a democracy, where people hold the ultimate political power.

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This question strikes at the heart of one of the most important and fundamental debates in modern democracies. Clearly, governments have an interest—sometimes a valid interest—in maintaining secrecy in some of their actions. Military tactical decisions, for example, can go awry, compromising the national interest and costing lives, if they become public. Few would argue that governments should not keep some things secret, as it is in the public's interest to do so.

But because the question directly refers to democracies, the answer must come down on the side of the public's right to be informed about government actions. As the American Civil Liberties Union argues, quoting a Supreme Court decision from 1936, “an informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment.” The main reason for this is that democracies are fundamentally based on the participation of citizens. The more information citizens have, the better opportunity they have to make educated decisions with their vote. This outweighs the government's interest in secrecy.

Moreover, another foundational principle of democracies is limited government. Since governments out of the public eye can abuse their powers, it is essential that the public have information about what their governments are doing. Of course, this is not a question with clear-cut answers. Striking a balance between transparency and essential state secrets is, as noted at the beginning of this answer, a fundamental challenge to democracy.

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