The presumption of disclosure

Our new president issued a memo yesterday which sets the tone regarding the accessibility of government information.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

What a relief. For so long now, the default position of for too much information has been ‘restrict access whenever possible’. I’m very much in favor of freeing up information for two reasons:

    As the memo states: A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.
    Our current system has devalued the entire system of classification of information and forced people to violate laws and regulations on the handling of sensitive information.

I’m reminded of a time in Bagram when the location of the guard towers on the perimeter of the base was classified. Never mind that you (and the rest of the world) could see all of the guard towers (with big numbers painted on each one), a map of those same towers was classified. Now, in practical terms that meant if you wanted a couple of soldiers to stand guard duty in one of those towers you probably couldn’t give them a map to show them where to go (since they probably didn’t have the request clearance) but you could tell them to ask any and every Afghan they met for directions since they knew the base as well as anyone else. Totally ridiculous but it reflected the idea that every document produced either had to have some sort of classification on it or it was worthless.

Let’s hope this memo is a beginning of a new era of openness and that it trickles (or floods) through the various branches and levels of government.


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