Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Sunshine Sunday 2003

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Sunshine Sunday 2003

Article excerpt

Let's celebrate National Freedom of Information Day March 16 by encouraging the growing grassroots spirit of public access

Given Washington's increasing hostility to the very idea that access to public information and proceedings belongs to the public by right, it's probably appropriate that this year National Freedom of Information (FOI) Day, March 16, falls on a Sunday -- when all the government buildings are locked up tight.

Abetted by a compliant Congress that can barely muster a murmur in defense of transparency, the Bush administration is systematically shutting out public scrutiny as it enforces the Homeland Security Act and the maddeningly misnamed USA Patriot Act.

Now the Justice Department is privately circulating a draft of something called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. In Washington circles, they're calling it "Patriot Act II." An American Society of Newspaper Editors analysis concluded the other day that the proposal would "severely curtail" public access to information in numerous ways. Here's just one: It creates deportation hearings so secret that the court itself would be prohibited from saying whether it was scheduled to hear a particular case.

All this makes for a dispiriting celebration of National FOI Day, observed on the birthday of America's first great advocate of government openness, James Madison. The Father of the Constitution would be appalled at the thought that, 252 years after his birth, the federal government would be busier hiding its workings than making them more transparent. …

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