Could We Punish Those Who Wrongly Classify?

by Conor Friedersdorf

Glenn Greenwald is rightfully upset by the fact that the United States is guarding official secrets ever more closely, even as it pries into the lives of its citizens in unprecedented ways:

That's the mindset of the U.S. Government:  everything it does of any significance can and should be shielded from public view; anyone who shines light on what it does is an Enemy who must be destroyed; but nothing you do should be beyond its monitoring and storing eyes.  And what's most remarkable about this -- though, given the full-scale bipartisan consensus over it, not surprising -- is how eagerly submissive much of the citizenry is to this imbalance...

But the imbalance has become so extreme -- the Government now watches much of the citizenry behind a fully opaque one-way mirror -- that the dangers should be obvious.  And this is all supposed to be the other way around:  it's government officials who are supposed to operate out in the open, while ordinary citizens are entitled to privacy.  Yet we've reversed that dynamic almost completely.

One thing I'd like to see going forward is for government officials to be punished whenever it is discovered that they improperly classified documents when doing so wasn't appropriate. As it stands, the incentive is to just label everything as a state secret. But if doing so costs people their jobs, or forced them to pay hefty fines, or in extreme cases resulted in their being jailed, suddenly the harmful act of making secret government behavior that citizens are entitled to know about would occur a lot less frequently.

Even better would be if all classified documents were subject to randomized review by a panel of judges so that perpetrators of secrecy abuse would always need to fear that they might be caught. Perhaps I am missing some problem with what I'm proposing? Call it a tentative suggestion pending reader comments.