I've Got a Secret. From a simpler time, it's a TV show title — one that, along with To Tell the Truth, becomes a whole lot darker in meaning in many a modern context. The simple, innocent deceptions that amused TV audiences in days of yore have given way to glaring problems in the public forum where stealth can disarm legitimate opposition and carry off the prize.
One reason we observe Freedom of Information (FOI) Day (observed at SIBL on March 15, 2012) is to give ourselves a moment to reflect on some of the key issues facing librarians and our colleagues in many other professions and careers. Access to information, particularly (though not limited to) government information, and its use in the governmental decision-making process is vital to all of us as citizens. Secrecy is the antithesis of access in this forum. And secrecy is the veil that many a bureaucrat use to obscure as much information as they can. It is against this overreaching that we can strive, and on which we focus with Sunshine Week and Freedom of Information Day.
With this as background, here is a good opportunity to take a quick look at some of the FOI activities from the advocacy organization Public Citizen, where our presenter for this year, Robert Weissman, is President.
To view descriptions of the efforts of the five divisions of Public Citizen is practically to hear the hum of activities resonating in areas such as global trade, health research, and energy policy. But it is on two of these divisions that FOI Day will find its focus: Congress Watch — a government watchdog engaged in public education and advocacy, and the Litigation Group — a public interest law firm that can "provide legal advice and assistance to Public Citizen researchers and lobbyists, to congressional staffers, and to staff at other public interest organizations."
The latter group really has the most focus on FOI issues, especially in the areas of open government, government transparency, and keeping courts open to the public. Public Citizen's own website describes these best — with no comment needed here except suggesting that this group is where much of the "heavy lifting" will take place to keep all the other areas of advocacy moving forward and running smoothly!
But Public Citizen's efforts for transparency and access to information take other forms as well. A good example of this is over the current Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement negotiations in which the US Trade Representative is participating. While for most people this is an under-the-radar issue, Public Citizen's site, along with the sites of other organizations, have pointed out the extraordinary level of secrecy that cloaks these negotiations. Public Citizen has included suggestions for concerned citizens who oppose this closed-door approach, which you can view on its website.
You may have questions about Public Citizen's activities in this and other areas. If so, and if you are interested in finding out more, March 15 at 10:30 a.m. at SIBL is a great opportunity for you. We hope to see you there!