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Improving Public Access to Documents Act – Hearings

[cross posted on LegalResearchPlus]

Statement Of Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org

Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, Committee on Homeland Security

H.R. 6193, The “Improving Public Access to Documents Act,”
Hearing: Wednesday, June 11, 2008

[excerpt from the prepared testimony]

“We have experienced a trend in our country away from trust in the public to a “need-to know” mind set. A few, primarily federal, departments and entities have either, in a few cases, been designated or have arrogated to themselves the power to say who has a need-to-know and only governments and a few private sector entities have been deemed worthy. The public and the press have been almost entirely excluded. At one point, the Department of Homeland Security even attempted to make Congressional staff sign nondisclosure agreements in order to prove they could be trusted into the inner circle of those
legitimate few.

Again, there is absolutely some finite amount of information that, for a certain amount of time, needs to be shared only in a limited fashion. The problem for the public is that we have “translucence, not transparency, i.e., transparency within the network, but opacity to those outside.”* The “need-to-share”” cannot be limited to agencies within governments and defense and homeland security contractors; it also must include, to the greatest extent possible, sharing relevant information with the public. The White House Memorandum and this legislation both recognize this by requiring “portion marking,” so that information in a document that is eligible for disclosure can be made public.”

*Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, “Translucence Not Transparency: Reviewing Alasdair Roberts, Blacked Out: Government Secrecy In The Information Age.” I/S: A Journal Of Law And Policy For The Information Society, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (2006).