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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 30, 2006

Government secrecy harms all citizens

SPREADING 'SUNSHINE'

To learn more about a citizen's rights to public information in Hawai'i, go to The Advertiser's special report on public access and open meeting laws.

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A group of news executives meeting in Seattle last week heard an updated report on government secrecy that paints a fairly dismal picture.

Government agencies, local to federal, are finding new ways to keep information secret and out of the hands of the public, a special Freedom of Information Committee reported to the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

While the news media frequently worry over access to public records and meetings, reports such as this should trouble every citizen.

Indeed, the true beneficiary of broad access to government information is the average citizen.

The government's business is the public's business. And information collected by our government using tax dollars with specific and limited exceptions should be available to those who paid for it: taxpayers.

The news editors recognize this and are smartly suggesting that the media partner with others who might have a specific interest in access to records, including genealogy experts, historians, academics and even community researchers.

They all share a common interest in finding and using public information.

As if to underscore the point, even as the editors were meeting, an audit released in Washington concluded that a fraction of the documents recently withdrawn from public access in the National Archives should not have been removed.

The audit by the Information Security Oversight Office concluded that roughly 25 percent of those documents should not have been classified, and thus should not have been pulled from the public view.

This flurry at the Archives serves as a reminder that government far too often is eager to gather information and then hold it in secret an unhealthy policy that should alarm anyone interested in preserving the values of a democratic society.