In trying to decide where to start our blog, we have been discussing all the different topics that interest us related to government information, but that discussion leads us from one corner of the earth to another. Issues of information access are central to just about any aspect of governance, from the neighborhood watch to the United Nations. So we thought perhaps it would be best to start with a few personal reflections and opinions.
Readers who know us, know that we are strong advocates for permanent public access to government information. It seems counterintuitive to those of us grew up in a time when, for the cost of a few good sneezes, we could dig up just about anything from the dusty bowels of our favorite research library. But permanent access is something we cannot take for granted in a time when a small agency that has little interaction with the public can press a button and delete a good chunk of its history without stirring up any notice -- yet it’s double-edged sword. The technology that makes it so easy for valuable information to disappear also empowers all of us to participate in a truly democratic process at a global scale like never before.
In this modern information universe, of course, the only way to begin any inquiry is with a Google search. So let’s see what we get.
"Free Government Information" returns 24,300 hits, topped off by ours truly. A quick scan down the list shows that the bulk of the hits are to sites discussing or linking to FGI, so it’s only somewhat enlightening. One thing that pops out to us is the fact that people are using the terms "open government," "transparency," and "free government information" interchangeably and differently depending on context. You see quotes like "open government leads to transparency," while others take transparency as an element of open government. Of course the bulk of them are political in nature, concentrating on government information policy, from the radicals at Radical Reference to pretty tame municipal government sites on open meetings. But some interesting snippets caught our eye.
There’s a conspiracy website whose motto is "Those who are unaware are unaware that they are unaware." Our first inclination is to shrug it off, but it’s something to make note of. In the current public debate over health care reform, it’s fascinating to see how deeply these kinds of ideas affect -- at times it seems, even steer the public debate. Even if we can’t take these ideas themselves seriously, the fact that so many people take them very seriously and consider them the main point of connection between their lives and the government is sobering, and vital to a clear understanding of our political landscape. The fact that a search of "free government information" places this near the top of the list is telling.
We are scanning for other weird, fun, and offbeat sites to cover in the next few posts. Until then …