The Ethics of Secrecy

May 18 -
 19, 2012

Co-sponsored By:


The Conference

Recent events have put governmental secrecy in the news and  enhanced the scrutiny of classification practices. During the Bush Administration,  for example, a series of secret legal memoranda authorized the use of enhanced  interrogation techniques against terror suspects. These formed a key component  of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism strategy. With the Obama Administration,  clandestine legal memoranda have sought to justify the use of targeted killing,  and one particularly controversial memo authorized the killing of an American  citizen, Anwar al-Alawki. The contents of the latter have not been made public,  though pressure is mounting for its release. Even the criteria by which a target  is placed on the targeted killing list (the “Joint Prioritized Effects List” (JPEL)) remain confidential.

With the pressures of the ongoing War on Terror, major  policies and legal questions of national importance have become less and less open  to public view. The increase in secrecy  is not without costs, as there appears to be a tradeoff between the need for  effective security and the value of transparency. On the one hand, as Immanuel  Kant wrote, “every claim to right must have this capacity for publicity.” John  Rawls has echoed this same sentiment in requiring publicity as a condition of  the social contract. On the other hand, effective national security crucially  depends on the State’s ability to control the flow of information. This  Roundtable will consider whether the expanding use of secrecy in governmental  practices is desirable, and, most crucially, whether it is consistent with rule  of law values.


8:30 – 9:00 a.m.Continental Breakfast
9:00 – 10:30 a.m.Session 1: Foundational Questions
10:30 – 11:00 a.m.Break
11:00 – 12:30 p.m.Session 2: Philosophical Writings on Publicity Conditions
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.Lunch
1:30 – 3:30 p.m.Break
3:30 p.m.Transportation to Chestnut Hill
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.Session 3: Classification and Executive Privilege (at the home of Claire Finkelstein)
6:00 p.m.Cocktails and Dinner
9:00 – 9:30 a.m.Continental Breakfast
9:30 – 11:00 a.m.Session 4: Secrecy and Military Operations
11:00 – 11:30 a.m.Break
11:30 – 1:00 p.m.Session 5: Secrecy and Civil Rights
1:00 – 2:00 p.m.Lunch
2:00 – 3:30 p.m.Session 6: Looking Forward: A World of Secret Laws


William Burke-White

Deputy Dean and Professor of Law University of Pennsylvania Law School

Chris Melenovsky

Academica Administrator Institute for Law and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

William Craven

Chairman of Federal Systems Norristonw, NJ Richard Meyer Assistant Professor Department of Law, United States Military Academy, West Point

Lucy Dalglish

Executive Director Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Christopher W. Morris

Professor of Philosophy University of Maryland

Susan Dimock

Professor of Philosophy York University

Jens Ohlin

Associate Professor of Law Cornell University Law School

Claire O. Finkelstein

Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy University of Pennsylvania Law School

Samuel J. Rascoff

Associate Professor of Law New York University School of Law

Jean Galbraith

Sharswood Fellow in Law and International Affairs University of Pennsylvania Law School

Connie Rosati

Associate Professor of Philosophy The University of Arizona

Kevin H.Govern

Associate Professor of Law Ave Maria School of Law

Harvey Rubin, M.D., Ph.D.

Director of Penn’s Institute for Strategic Threat Analyis and Response (ISTAR), and Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania

Scott Horton

Contributing Editor – Harper’s Magazine Lecturer-in-Law Columbia Law School

Mark Rumold

Open Government Legal Fellow Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jameel Jaffer

Director of National Security Project Litigator American Civil Liberties Union

Maimon Schwarzschild

Professor of Law University of San Diego School of Law

Christopher C. Kutz

Professor of Law UC Berkeley School of Law

Ruti G. Teitel

Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law New York Law School

Martin S. Lederman

Associate Professor of Law Georgetown Law School

Matthew Waxman

Associate Professor of Law Columbia Law School

Sanford V. Levinson

W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair, Professor of Government The University of Texas at Austin School of Law Jules Zacher Boardmember- Council For a Livable World Attorney-at-Law

Sharon Anne Lloyd

Professor of Philosophy, Law and Political Science University of Southern California

Andrew Williams

ICREA Research Professor Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Contact us

For any questions regarding the conference or registration, please contact: Jennifer Cohen at

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