AP President/CEO: “Government Undermining ‘Right to Know’ Laws” & NARA Says They Live in Fear of Upsetting White House
It’s getting harder and more expensive to use public records to hold government officials accountable. Authorities are undermining the laws that are supposed to guarantee citizens’ right to information, turning the right to know into just plain “no.”
Associated Press journalists filed hundreds of requests for government files last year, simply trying to use the rights granted under state open records laws and the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years: the systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.
In government emails that AP obtained in reporting about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the National Archives and Records Administration blacked out one sentence repeatedly, citing a part of the law intended to shield personal information such as Social Security numbers or home addresses.
The blacked-out sentence? The government slipped and let it through on one page of the redacted documents: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”
To its credit, the U.S. government does not routinely overcharge for copies of public records, but price-gouging intended to discourage public records requests is a serious problem in many states.
Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, billed the AP $135 an hour for nearly a day’s work merely to retrieve emails from a handful of accounts about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. That was roughly 10 times the cost of an entry-level Ferguson clerk’s salary.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.