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How government transparency and the Freedom of Information Act have transformed society

Mar 3, 2023 by AFP

The Freedom of Information Act serves a vital function by providing everyone with a way to know what the government is up to.

As the Supreme Court has explained, the FOIA “defines a structural necessity in a real democracy.” State-level public access statutes achieve the same result; transparency is as important at the local level as it is in Washington, D.C.  

The path to widespread recognition of the importance of openness in government has been a long one.

Congress only passed the FOIA in 1966, replacing the far less robust disclosure provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act. And Congress has occasionally amended the FOIA to account for technological developments.

At the same time, the effectiveness of the FOIA is not without criticism. Despite the imperfection of our federal transparency regime, the FOIA and other transparency laws have had a transformational effect on civic society. This year’s Sunshine Week Symposium (March 13–17) will explore this notion as its participants discuss how the FOIA has made a positive and lasting impact on American political culture and the legal landscape. 

AFP Foundation prioritizes working alongside partners to educate Americans to understand the importance of transparency. Our hope is that this symposium will empower everyone to understand the importance — and the power — of openness in government.

On each day of Sunshine Week, AFPF will publish one or two thought-provoking essays. Check back on this page to find the links to all the contributions! On Thursday, March 16, our essayists will come together in a virtual webinar to respond to each other and to answer your questions.   

Register here for the March 16 webinar

This year’s essayists represent a selection of respected leaders with years of experience working toward government accountability and transparency. They each bring differing views and ideas to the table. That sort of intellectual diversity is an important part of finding ideal solutions and building an open society where the marketplace of ideas is respected.   

Our participants include: 

  • Ryan Mulvey & James Valvo, Americans for Prosperity Foundation — “The Freedom of Information Act: A testament to the value of transparency” Read full article
  • Anne Weismann — “Has the Freedom of Information Act lived up to its purpose?” Read full article
  • Daniel Schuman, Demand Progress — “It’s time to apply the Freedom of Information Act to the legislative branch” Read full article
  • Jason R. Baron, University of Maryland —”The Case For Applying AI to FOIA Processing: How Does Access To Government Records Work When An Agency Holds Hundreds of Millions of Emails?” Read full article
  • David Cuillier, Brechner Freedom of Information Project, University of Florida — “Strengthening FOIA: Time for teeth” Read full article.
  • Bernard Bell, Rutgers Law School — “FOIA and the Invigoration of Public Interest Groups” Read full article
  • Lauren Harper, National Security Archive — “How declassification mechanisms and FOIA have ensured vital transparency in the history of American foreign policy” Read full article

Read exclusive essays from previous symposia below:

  • 2021 – “Restoring accountability: How government transparency empowers Americans to drive change” 
  • 2022 – “Reforming FOIA: The best ideas for better government transparency and accountability”