On balance, secrecy is bad. More often than not, dragging things into the sunshine has a curative effect, even when we’d rather not look too closely at what we’re revealing.

I suspect that’s true of the videos and photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, but I’m quite sure it’s true of the downright offensive web sites unmasked in the recent report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. As we report on Page 35 of this issue, a new Wiesenthal study–Digital Terrorism & Hate 2004–warns educators of the toxic web sites purveying anger and lies. Some of the most insidious actually masquerade as legitimate educational offerings. The center’s study is a timely reminder that educators must do everything they can to prepare youngsters to cope with the dark side of the internet–indeed, of life.

Candor is dandy. But it’s well to remember that directing strong light into dark corners can set unpleasant things scampering into view. A look at the multi-million-dollar business of school vending machines is an unlikely case in point.

In pursuing the story on Page 12 of this issue, reporter Cara Branigan found that vending-machine revenue can excite unexpectedly extreme reactions in some quarters. One educator we called was so loath to discuss vending-machine operations in her district that she slammed the phone down in poor Cara’s ear. Some say such school officials simply have too much on their minds to worry about vending machines, but more cynical minds wonder: What could these school officials be so sensitive about that would involve large sums of money poorly accounted for? We’ll keep pondering that, you may be sure.

And what could arouse more suspicion about stuff done in secret than computer spyware–little programs that stealthily burrow into your computer, monitor your online behavior, and report things about you to far-removed persons unknown? As we report on Page One, spyware is now so common that many educators and other internet users consider it the biggest problem since spam. It’s gotten so bad, even Congress is investigating the matter.

And then, of course, there’s the U.S. Department of Justice under John Ashcroft. Citing the threat of pirated music and video, he launched a veritable blitzkrieg of raids–presumably on suspected members of the so-called “Warez scene.” As we report on the Front Page, FBI agents materialized on the doorsteps of at least one school and two colleges and demanded access to computers and related files.

Why have they come? Can’t say. What are they looking for? No comment. Did they find anything? Mind your own business. Will more schools and colleges be targeted? You’ll find out . . .

As a publisher of copyrighted material, I appreciate the need to protect intellectual property. I can even imagine the need for secrecy in orchestrating coordinated raids on pockets of pirates. (I’d say “alleged pirates” here, but nobody has alleged anything. Mum’s the word from Washington.)

But never mind. All will out . . . eventually. It always comes out. Yet it’s as though certain officials have a special strain of learning disability, a mysterious malady that prevents them from absorbing lesson after lesson.

The embattled folks at Diebold Election Systems found that out. When flaws with their eVoting machines first were reported by college students, the company filed cease and desist orders against them. The company called off the legal action, however, when the young people filed a countersuit of their own with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Now, as we report on Page 32, problems with the firm’s election systems are so widely known that the California secretary of state has asked California’s attorney general to file criminal charges against the company.

In 1641, Richelieu wrote, “Secrecy is the first essential in affairs of the State.”

After all these years and considering the sorry state of our affairs, maybe the time has come to err on the side of sunshine for a change.