Friday, March 04, 2005

Things You're Not Supposed to Know

One of my longstanding interests is access to government information or "freedom of information" issues as they get called in the United States.

I love this tool: is a searchable database of requests for information submitted to federal institutions under Canada's Access to Information Act (ATIA). It is a creation of Alasdair Roberts, a professor at the Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He is a Canadian who used to teach at the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University.

Roberts produces an AMBERLIGHT MONITOR, for example, here's the January 2005 edition. ATIA requests submitted by journalists and Members of Parliament are tagged by federal agencies for "special attention", which may cause delay in the processing of requests. In some agencies, these requests are said to be "amberlighted." The amberlighted requests deal with issues we are not supposed to find out about too quickly - but if you track them, you might be able to guess what will be appearing on the front page of your newspaper some time soon.

There was a time perhaps 10 or 15 years ago when one could feel that government secretiveness was gradually being eroded thanks to better access legislation. Are we regressing? Amberlighting seems to be part of a trend to restrain or even block public access.

In late 2003, the Toronto Star published a lengthy series that concluded that "the public's right to access government information is often subverted, delayed and denied by politicians and their advisers".

Not a good sign.

There are some interesting US sites that deal with the damage to freedom of information down there under the Bush administration. For the truly nosy among you, I would recommend Memory Hole, the National Security Archives and the Project on Government Secrecy.

The Memory Hole collects and publishes elusive records and documents that have been withdrawn from the public domain. It also features a blog and an XML-based news feed.

The National Security Archives is funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The Archives are "simultaneously a research institute on international affairs, a library and archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, a public interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information through the FOIA, and an indexer and publisher of the documents in books, microfiche, and electronic formats."

The Project on Government Secrecy is run by the Federation of American Scientists.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 1:08 pm


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