March 16, 2011

Freedom of Information Day


Today is the birthday of the fourth U.S. President, James Madison. This was the guy who is called the “Father of the Constitution,” the guy who was the chief writer of the Bill of Rights. Obviously, individual rights and openness of government were important to Madison, which is why Americans celebrate Freedom of Information Day on his birthday.

Do American's celebrate Freedom of Information Day?

Well, the American Library Association has set aside this day to honor people who work to ensure public access to government information, giving out Madison Awards to worthy people.

The Right to Know?

Did you know that, since the Freedom of Information Act passed in 1966, federal agencies must disclose records requested in writing by ANY U.S. citizen? Well, there are a few exclusions. The people's right to know ends where a citizen's right to privacy begins—in other words, certain kinds of information about individuals is kept private except to law enforcement agencies who are investigating crimes. Also, of course, there is the matter of national security. Some classified information just has to stay secret—for a while, at least—to safeguard soldiers, for example.

What do you think? Do you suppose that some government officials misuse these exclusions and keep stuff secret that shouldn't be kept secret? Do you suppose that some citizens demand to know stuff that should be kept private? There have been times in the past when “whistle blowers” leak important information that the public should know—and we can see that this was the right thing to do because we know how “it turned out.” It's a little harder to judge whether or not someone leaking information right now is the right thing to do...

What do you think?

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