Breaking Down the Walls: The Fight for Open Government

The title of my presentation at the current University of Florida Freedom of Information (FOI) conference was “The Rightful Owners of Public Information.” That’s the theme in a nutshell.

It’s clear from listening to panelists such as AP’s head of Washington investigations Ted Bridis and journalist Terry Anderson that FOI has become little more than a game that federal officials use to withhold public information. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s been that way for years.

IMG_2555Anderson was held hostage by Islamic terrorists in Lebanon for seven years. When he was finally released, he tried to obtain information the government had gathered on his capture and negotiations. But he says the government sent an immediate denial stating that giving him those records would invade the terrorists’ privacy. What’s more, the CIA told him (in writing) that the records could be released if he could get written permission from the terrorists.

In addition to the obvious absurdity of that directive, Anderson pointed out that foreigners are not covered by privacy exemptions under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Here’s the video of the two hour FOI presentation, including Anderson’s stories, Bridis’ fascinating tales from the field and anecdotes from attorney Tab Turner who fights both government and corporate secrecy. The first hour is my presentation plus Q-and-A. For the panel, you can skip to the second hour.t

This conference was made possible in part with proceeds from the New York Times bestseller Stonewalled. Thank you to UF’s Dean of the Journalism and Communications College Diane McFarlin, Professor Sandra Chance who heads the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and Margaret Gaylord for all of their teams’ efforts in putting this important event together.

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