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"Secret" redirects here. For other uses, see Secret (disambiguation).

Secrecy is the practice of hiding information from others. That which is kept hidden is known as the secret. Secrecy is often controversial. Many people claim that, at least in some situations, it is better for everyone if everyone knows all the facts—there should be no secrets. Closely allied—perhaps synonymous—notions of confidentiality and privacy are often considered virtues. William Penn wrote, "It is wise not to seek a secret; and honest, not to reveal one."[1]


[edit] Natural and sociological secrecy

Secrecy is built into biology. One reason for sexual reproduction and speciation may be to allow members of a species to share genetic improvements without those improvements becoming available to competitors [citation needed]. Animals, including humans (in some cases), conceal the location of their den or nest from predators. Humans attempt to consciously conceal aspects of themselves from others due to shame, or from fear of rejection, loss of acceptance, or loss of employment. On a deeper level, humans attempt to conceal aspects of their own self which they are not capable of incorporating psychologically into their conscious being. Families sometimes maintain "family secrets", obliging family members never discuss disagreeable issues concerning the family, either with those outside the family and sometimes even within the family. Many "family secrets" are maintained by using a mutually agreed-upon construct (an official family story) when speaking with outside members. Agreement to maintain the secret is often coerced through "shaming" and reference to family honour. The information may even be something as trivial as a recipe.

[edit] Government secrecy

Governments often attempt to conceal information from other governments or the public. These state secrets can include weapon designs, military plans, diplomatic negotiation tactics, and secrets obtained illicitly from others ("intelligence"). Most nations have some form of Official Secrets Act (the Espionage Act in the U.S.) and classify material according to the level of protection needed (hence the term "classified information"). An individual needs a security clearance for access and other protection methods, such as keeping documents in a safe, are stipulated.

Few people dispute the desirability of keeping Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information secret, but many believe government secrecy to be excessive and too often employed for political purposes. Many countries have laws that attempt to limit government secrecy, such as the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and sunshine laws. Government officials sometimes leak information they are supposed to keep secret. (For a current (2005) example, see Plame affair.)

[edit] Corporate security

Organizations, ranging from multi-national for profit corporations to nonprofit charities, keep secrets for competitive advantage, to meet legal requirements, or, in some cases, to conceal nefarious behavior. New products under development, unique manufacturing techniques, or simply lists of customers are types of information protected by trade secret laws. The patent system encourages inventors to publish information in exchange for a limited time monopoly on its use, though patent applications are initially secret. Keeping one's strategy secret is important in many aspects of game theory. Secret societies use secrecy as a way to attract members by creating a sense of importance. Secrecy is central to organized crime.

Other laws require organizations to keep certain information secret, such as medical records (HIPAA in the U.S.), or financial reports that are under preparation (to limit insider trading). Europe has particularly strict laws about database privacy. The U.S. even has a special law protecting records of video tape rentals and sales (18 USC 2710), apparently passed when members of Congress realized their video viewing habits could be politically embarrassing.

[edit] Technology of secrecy

Preservation of secrets is one of the goals of information security. Techniques used include physical security and cryptography. The latter depends on the secrecy of cryptographic keys. Many believe that security technology can be more effective if it itself is not kept secret. See Full disclosure, Kerckhoffs' principle, Security through obscurity.

Information hiding is a design principle in much software engineering. It is considered easier to verify software reliability if one can be sure that different parts of the program only have access to certain information.

[edit] Hazards of secrecy

Excessive secrecy is often cited as a source of much human conflict. One may have to lie in order to hold a secret, which might lead to psychological repercussions. The alternative -- declining to answer when asked something -- may suggest the answer and may therefore not always be suitable for keeping a secret. Also, the other may insist that one answers the question. Nearly 2500 years ago, Sophocles wrote, "Do nothing secretly; for Time sees and hears all things, and discloses all."

[edit] See also

[edit] References

The Federal Information Manual. P. Stephen Gidiere III. American Bar Association (2006)[2].

[edit] External links

hu:Titok no:Hemmelighold pl:Tajemnica ru:Секрет vi:Bí mật zh:保密性


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