It's our most basic right, really, to know what the hell the government is doing with our money. But, in recent years, that right has been under attack, with more and more public information being kept away from ordinary folks.That's why the Associated Press and others have launched Sunshine Week, a seven-day celebration highlighting the dangers of too much government secrecy -- and the steps people can take to get their data back.People are getting increasingly active, trying to mine the hidden nuggets that lie inside government archives with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, a new AP study shows. But fewer and fewer of those requests are honored by Washington.
"The locations of stores and restaurants that have received recalled meat, the names of detainees held by the U.S. overseas and details about Vice President Dick Cheney's 2001 energy policy task force are all among the records that the government isn't sharing with the public...At the CIA, just 12 percent of the FOIA requests processed were granted in total in 2004, down from 44 percent in 1998. The FBI gave people asking for records everything they asked for just 1 percent of the time in 2004, compared to 5 percent in 1998.That's not just inconvenient for reporter types. It costs the country a bundle. And it actually harms national security, Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) argues. Battling complex terrorist networks requires more sharing of information, not less; just look at how effective data-hoarding was at stopping the Twin Towers attacks."Our secrecy system is all about protecting secrecy officers, and has nothing to do with protecting secrets. It's a self-licking ice-cream cone," Rich Haver, Donald Rumsfeld's former special assistant for intelligence, told Defense Tech in 2003. "We're compartmentalizing the shit out of things. It's causing a total meltdown of our intelligence processes."In response, a group of bipartisan lawmakers has introduced a set of bills designed to strengthen and speed up the FOIA process. "The last time Congress approved major reforms to FOIA was nearly a decade ago," the website of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) notes. It's time to change the law again.THERE'S MORE: Here's a set of links to help you file a FOIA request of your own.