July 3, 2006

AN ACORN AMIDST THE NUTS:

We Need Fewer Secrets (Jimmy Carter, July 3, 2006, Washington Post)

A poll conducted last year found that 70 percent of Americans are either somewhat or very concerned about government secrecy. This is understandable when the U.S. government uses at least 50 designations to restrict unclassified information and created 81 percent more "secrets" in 2005 than in 2000, according to the watchdog coalition OpenTheGovernment.org.

Moreover, the response to FOIA requests often does not satisfy the transparency objectives or provisions of the law, which, for example, mandates an answer to information requests within 20 working days. According to the National Security Archives 2003 report, median response times may be as long as 905 working days at the Department of Agriculture and 1,113 working days at the Environmental Protection Agency. The only recourse for unsatisfied requesters is to appeal to the U.S. District Court, which is costly, timely and unavailable to most people. Policies that favor secrecy, implementation that does not satisfy the law, lack of a mandated oversight body and inaccessible enforcement mechanisms have put the United States behind much of the world in the right to information.

Increasingly, developed and developing nations are recognizing that a free flow of information is fundamental for democracy. Whether it's government or private companies that provide public services, access to their records increases accountability and allows citizens to participate more fully in public life. It is a critical tool in fighting corruption, and people can use it to improve their own lives in the areas of health care, education, housing and other public services. Perhaps most important, access to information advances citizens' trust in their government, allowing people to understand policy decisions and monitor their implementation.

Nearly 70 countries have passed legislation to ensure the right to request and receive public documents, the vast majority in the past decade and many in middle- and low-income nations. While the United States retreats, the international trend toward transparency grows, with laws often more comprehensive and effective than our own. Unlike FOIA, which covers only the executive branch, modern legislation includes all branches of power and some private companies. Moreover, new access laws establish ways to monitor implementation and enforce the right, holding agencies accountable for providing information quickly and fully.


Bring back Admiral Poindexter and put everything on-line

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 3, 2006 2:56 PM
Comments

Attention drive-by media: We need fewer secreters of secrets!

Posted by: obc at July 3, 2006 3:22 PM

Apparently, our secrets aren't very secret, so sayeth the NYT.

Posted by: RC at July 3, 2006 3:57 PM

I stopped reading at "Jimmy Carter".

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 3, 2006 10:16 PM
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