Monday marks the beginning of “Sunshine Week,” a nationwide observation of the importance and growing difficulty of access to government information. Organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the week is supposed to feature coverage by media across the country of threats to the public’s right to know.
A good deal of the sunshine that has illuminated the halls of government in recent decades has been let in not by the press, but by the public — Dogged gadflies, curious citizens, and determined groups that have been willing to file one Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after another.
So while the press celebrates Sunshine Week, the best way to insure that the right to information is cherished and defended is for people to review some of the secrets their fellow citizens have uncovered, and to try to unmask some of their own.
Few groups have done as much FOIA-ing as the National Security Archive, Judicial Watch and the Federation of American Scientists. Click on their names to see what inconvenient truths these organizations have uncovered recently.
Their efforts, and those of others, have encouraged government to ease access to material that many citizens request. That’s why a few government agencies have created online electronic reading rooms where with a few clicks you can read juicy original files from, for instance, the CIA or the FBI.
Not everything is online, because not all public information has been yielded. But legally speaking, it’s there for the asking. So ask. The White House and the Defense Department, to name two, offer guides to requesting information. And the DOJ provides a list of FOIA officers at other departments. Happy hunting.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 14, 2005
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