Law and Politics

Start Free Trial

What are the pros and cons of the United States government withholding information from its citizens? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This really depends on the type of information that is being withheld. For example, one major controversy at this time is the so called "ag-gag" laws in which state legislatures are making it illegal to publicize animal abuse in industrial livestock organizations. Criminalizing honest reporting does a major disservice to...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the public; the public also has a right to know the amount of money legislators are receiving from the agriculture industry so that they can make informed decisions about voting.

Similarly, the existence of Super-PACs harms the democratic process by making opaque the names of people who are funding political candidates, subverting the democratic process which is based on voters' ability to make informed choices. The government needs to ensure that all information relevant to making judgments that inform voting, including politicians' contacts with lobbyists and campaign funding, is freely available. 

A less clear cut case is funding for military projects. Some of military spending is opaque because the money is spent on "black projects", highly classified projects whose funding details are not made publicly available; in fact, details of some such projects may not even be available to most members of Congress.

On the one hand, it is important that leading edge developments in military technology not fall into the hands of foreign powers, and keeping all information about such projects on a "need to know" basis can protect such information against espionage. On the other hand, not all "black projects" really need such a high level of secrecy from the viewpoint of military intelligence. In some cases, secrecy about military funding can conceal cost overruns and politically motivated funding for companies in the constituencies of powerful members of Congress. In such cases, secrecy harms the right of voters in a democracy to make decisions about government spending.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are three pros and cons about whether it is appropriate for the government to withhold information from its citizens?

The degree to which governments should share information with their citizens is a hotly debated topic. While the specific arguments for and against sharing information with citizens will vary based on individual cases, here are some general pros and cons you could use to answer this question.


  1. Withholding information from citizens can help maintain order during a crisis. If the government does not reveal how serious a crisis is, people will be more likely to behave normally.
  2. Withholding information from citizens can protect national security. The less the government tells its people, the less information potential terrorists can use against that country.
  3. Withholding information from citizens protects government employees. Concealing information from citizens can protect employees (for example, police officers) from being targeted by anti-government organizations.


  1. Withholding information from citizens prevents people from acting in their own self-interest. If a crisis happens and the government keeps it a secret, the people affected by that crisis will not be able to protect themselves.
  2. Withholding information from citizens encourages corruption. If government employees know that the general public will not be able to hold them accountable for their actions, they will be more likely to behave in an unethical manner.
  3. Withholding information from citizens causes them to distrust the government. If a government regularly hides information from its citizens, they will be less likely to believe what the government does tell them.
Last Updated on