Given their social importance, there is a surprising lack of empirical or explanatory research seeking to understand the contours of secrecy and openness and why, and with what consequences, some forms have the support of law.
Nor has there been much research contrasting different forms of legal secrecy.
In a democratic society secrecy and openness exist in a continual dynamic tension.
Secrecy involves norms about the control of information, whether limiting access to it, destroying it, or prohibiting or shaping its creation.
Secrecy is a general and fundamental social process known to all societies.
It can characterize interaction at any level --from information an individual withholds, to secret rites of passage of pre-industrial societies, to the secrets of contemporary fraternal or business organizations, to state-held information on national security.Efforts to control information occur in a rich variety of contexts.Norms about the concealment of information and restrictions on communication ideally should be considered alongside of their opposites norms mandating the revelation of information and protecting the freedom to know and communicate.It involves a determination of what can, and can not, (or in the case of non-governmental efforts should and should not) be expressed to a broader audience in light of given political, religious, cultural, and artistic standards.Censorship may involve withholding or editing existing information, as well as preventing information from being created.More common than outright prohibition, is the segmentation of material involving time, place and person restrictions.Direct government means of censorship must be considered separately from the availability of resources to create and distribute information, the activities of private groups and from informal censorship, including exclusion from sources of information and self-censorship.Or masquerading under high principles of protecting public welfare and morals, it may simply involve a desire to protect the interests of the politically, economically and religiously powerful by restricting alternative views, criticism and delegitimating information.Among the most common historical rationales are political (sedition, treason, national security), religious (blasphemy, heresy), moral (obscenity, impiety), and social (incivility, irreverence, disorder). What they share is a claim that the public interest will be negatively affected by the communication.Such norms may involve formal legal rules such as Britains Official Secrets Act or the United States Freedom of Information Act, non-legally binding formal policies such as a banks refusal to reveal client information in the absence of a warrant or the consumer information voluntarily provided on some product labels, or it may involve informal expectations (close friends are expected not to reveal shared secrets to outsiders but are expected to reveal certain personal details to each other, such as true feelings about shared interests).The correlates and consequences of such variation offer rich material for analysis of the sociology of secrecy.