What information should governments and other powerful organizations disclose? Excessive secrecy corrodes democracy, facilitates corruption, and undermines good public policymaking, but keeping a lid on military strategies, personal data, and trade secrets is crucial to the protection of the public interest. Over the past several years, transparency has swept the world. India and South Africa have adopted groundbreaking national freedom of information laws. China is on the verge of promulgating new openness regulations that build on the successful experiments of such major municipalities as Shanghai. From Asia to Africa to Europe to Latin America, countries are struggling to overcome entrenched secrecy and establish effective disclosure policies. Indeed, most of the world’s nearly 200 nations do not have coherent disclosure laws; implementation of existing rules often proves difficult; and there is no consensus about what disclosure standards should apply to the increasingly powerful private sector. The Right to Know distills the lessons of many nations’ often bitter experience and provides careful analysis of transparency’s impact on governance, business regulation, environmental protection, and national security.
Ann Florini is the founding director of the Centre on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. She is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where her work explores new approaches to global governance.