A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.Such sunshine laws as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and open meetings laws provide essential legal rights and remedies for citizen access to government records and information. FOIA, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 4, 1966 and went into effect one year later, created a "right to know" as the basis for access whereas previously citizens needed to demonstrate a "need to know." As Johnson observed at the time:
This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the Nation permits. No one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.Upon entering office on January 21, 2009, President Obama's first executive action was to issue an Open Government Memorandum, which asserted that government should be transparent, participatory, and collaborative. One result of this emphasis on openness was the beginning of the operations of the Office of Government Information Services, which was charged with improving "the Freedom of Information Act process and resolv[ing] disputes between Federal agencies and FOIA requesters." Its latest reports are available online.
Other initiatives include the White House's new Good Government web site and the Department of Justice's FOIA web site, where one can learn more about how to file an FOIA request. Although such activities represent positive steps, the recently released 2011 Knight Open Government Survey finds that only 49 of 90 federal agencies are now complying with FOIA requirements. This is an improvement over the 13 found to be in compliance during the previous year's survey, but still far from acceptable.
For further information, the following resources may be of interest: The National Freedom of Information Coalition; The National Security Archive; The OMB Watch; The American Civil Liberties Union; The Electronic Frontier Foundation; and, for news of international freedom of information advocacy, FreedomInfo.org.