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Commemorating Sunshine Week: More Sunshine Earlier

by on March 14, 2014


The annual celebration of Sunshine Week reminds us of the need for greater transparency in government and greater public access to government information. As part of the initiative to promote freedom of information, we, the members of the Public Interest Declassification Board, renew our call on the need to transform our nation’s security classification system. Our 2012 Report to the President provides recommendations that will serve our citizens and our government in the digital age we live in and provides meaninful access to declassified national security information.

The climate of suspicion surrounding the management of national security information requires a new approach to access that promotes “more sunshine earlier.” Under the current system, the public waits 25 or even 50 years or more for declassification to automatically occur. The two channels for requesting access to national security information (one the Freedom of Information Act, the other being Manadatory Declassification Review) are bogged down with long queues and uneven reviews. Subjective declassification decisions are often dependent on the quality and care of individual reviewers and challenging agencies on these reviews is a long and arduous process.

We believe we need an entirely new construct to perform declassification efficiently and effectively across government. The challenges of managing information created in the era of Big Data require new and innovating thinking, new policies and new beliefs about information if we are ever going to be able to modernize the security classification system. Rote declassification is not the way forward and will not increase nor improve access to government information.

In our 2012 Report to the President, we made a series of recommendations on how best to transform the security classification system. We believe that Sunshine Week is an opportune time to revisit those recommendations and renew the call for increased access to information, a fundamental tenet inherent to our democracy.

During Sunshine Week, our members will participate in and attend events highlighting the importance of citizen access to government information. Throughout the week, Congressional hearings, newspaper editorials, campus gatherings and events across our nation invite citizens to participate in the dialogue of promoting freedom of information and government transparency. There are over 30 events listed on the Sunshine Week website, http://sunshineweek.org. We encourage your participation at these events during Sunshine Week and look forward to hearing about your experiences on our blog.


Comments

Dan Alcorn March 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Special statutes have also been used to try to access national security information about particular topics. The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 was enacted after public outcry following the release of Oliver Stone’s film “JFK”. The numerous public comments on this blog are attempting to obtain release of still classified information related to the assassination.
Subsequently Congress enacted the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 directed to opening classified records related to Nazi war crimes, and use of former Nazi personnel in post war US intelligence and military industrial activities.
The fact that Congress has had to enact special statutes to seek declassification of long ago events informs us as to the difficulty of obtaining information.

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