UnknownWe all know that people working for government departments on hush-hush projects have to sign an agreement not to disclose secrets, and this seems like a really good idea. We don’t really want bomb making instructions available on every newsstand. I don’t think Kenneth W. Ford worked directly for the government, but as an academic he did many calculations and assessments in connection with “the bomb”, spending some time in Los Alamos. In 2015 The New York Times reported on Professor Ford’s troubles with the Department of Energy over publication of his book, Building the H Bomb: A Personal Memoir. This article created huge pre-publication demand for the book, according to The Federation of American Scientists website. They tell us that the book, published later in that year, did contain changes: the DOE “asked Dr. Ford to make extensive changes in his manuscript. Depending on one’s point of view, the requested changes may have been frivolous, unnecessary, or prudent. But there is no reason to suppose they were presented in bad faith.”

More and more we hear of “prior restraint” as companies increasingly make non-disclosure a part of their employment contracts. Often this requirement is deeply buried in the small print, and people only become aware of it when they want to cry out about discrimination, sexual harassment, etc.

Obviously we don’t want people blabbing secrets of national importance, facts which could lead to the identification of “assets” whose lives could be put at risk as a consequence. But the fact that you may have a boss who tried to hit on you and then refused a raise or promotion should surely not be covered by the same sort of security blanket. Taking a job with the government ought to make you consider the probability of some such prior restraint. Accepting government funding might also raise a red flag in your mind. But we are all now live more or less voluntarily under pretty wide-ranging barriers on self expression, imposed by political correctness, self-censorship, and legal impediments. In general it would seem that telling the truth should be allowable. If we are aware of something wrong at work, we should be allowed to speak out in order that the problem may be corrected. “Should” is aspirational of course: those high-value employees who get to slide by will probably always be allowed greater freedom than you or me. However being required to bite your tongue can lead only to creeping encroachment on our liberties as well as a metallic taste in the mouth.