Have you ever wondered what transparency in government really means? Is it really possible? In an age when massive amounts of information are being gathered and tabulated about ordinary citizens, Americans need to know what the Government is doing and why. According to Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, transparency is defined as, the quality or state of being transparent, something transparent, esp.….some translucent substance, made visible by light shining through from behind… Easily seen through, recognized or detected”.
Elizabeth Holland noted on the AALL Washington Blawg, the House of Representatives, in a 410-0 vote, passed the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act which promises to raise the level of transparency in government by appointment of an oversight chief, and establishment of an online portal through which those making Freedom of Information Act requests, as well as news outlets, and interested citizens could check on the status of requests for information. There is actually a Transparency Project sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who bills themselves as “Defending Your right in the Digital World”. This group chronicles the history of FOIA since its inception.
If you are so inclined, you can read the Freedom of Information Act,(5 U.S.C.§552),for yourself. The Transparency Project’s outline history of this important act, points out that Presidents of both parties, have struggled with this statute since its inception, frequently citing the national security exception during the cold war and the need to protect sensitive government information. Obvious reasons for secrecy would be diplomatic relations, negotiations between allies and other governmental interests.
Balancing the public’s “right to know” with legitimate national security concerns is a tricky proposition. Must we sacrifice the former to achieve the latter? Maybe, except in a democracy, openness in government is essential to prevent tyranny, or the politization of democratic process. Hence transparency, or letting the light shine through what is done in our name, becomes an important thing. It is a reflection of who we are as a people and what we stand for in the world. This delicate balancing act will doubtless go on, as it must. What do you think? I invite you to read more about it and make your own conclusions.