Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Security, Access, Intellectual Freedom: Achieving Balance in a Global World

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Security, Access, Intellectual Freedom: Achieving Balance in a Global World

Article excerpt

Abstract

Security, privacy, access, and intellectual freedom are words that are loaded with emotional meaning and context for current societal issues. How do we ensure all without sacrificing or compromising others? Balancing a government's need to control information with the individual's right to freely access government information is a global concern that must be addressed. Following 9/11, this balance was challenged by the government limiting access to information, or in many cases removing it from access entirely. Challenges to access include: 1) restricting use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2) increased secrecy within the government, and 3) removal of or disappearance of government information. This article will discuss the role and efforts of libraries and librarians to ensure public access to information. U.S. legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act and the USA Patriot Act and how it challenges access are explored. Efforts to restore the balance, by both the government and by those in the academic and journalism communities, will illustrate how both sides of the scale need to be examined so we can move forward.

Introduction

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 which knowledge gives. (President James Madison, 1822.)

The post 9/11 world has required us to rethink many aspects of our lives. It could also be argued that because of the threat of terrorism we have been required to sacrifice or compromise freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of a democratic society. Freedoms like access to information, privacy, and free speech have been sorely tested as our government attempts to restore some sense of normalcy to our lives. With the promise of security from further terrorist attacks our government has imposed new measures to control, manage, and restrict access to information, measures that have met with much criticism and censor from information professionals such as librarians and journalists. Both communities have been rigorously fighting to restore these basic freedoms.

Balancing a government's need to control information with the individual's right to freely access government information is a global concern that must be addressed. More than 50 countries around the world have adopted open access policies or have enacted laws to provide access to government information. The most recent of these is the United Kingdom's Freedom of Information Act which went into effect January 1, 2005. At least 38 other countries including Russia, Brazil, The Philippines, and Germany are working on or considering laws to open up access. (Swartz, 2004) Ironically, many of these laws are patterned after the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is currently under assault due to changes resulting from legislation passed precipitously after 9/11. Laws such as the USA Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act amended provisions of the FOIA to make it easier for government agencies to restrict or refuse access to government information.

Increasing secrecy within the government is also a great cause for concern and is being challenged by librarians and journalists. The USA Patriot and Homeland Security Acts restrict access further. Experts report that "excessive classification is impeding information sharing between government agencies, .. and excessive secrecy in government sabotaged attempts to find, track, and catch terrorists before 9/11." (Swartz, 2004)

A further interesting phenomenon that became more prevalent immediately after 9/11, is the disappearance or alteration of information available on government websites or from federal depository libraries due to its potential to compromise national security.

The American Library Association (ALA) Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) and the OpenTheGovernment. …

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