The History and Future of Freedom of Information
David E. Pozen, Michael Schudson
Today, transparency is a widely heralded value, and the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is often held up as one of the transparency movement’s canonical achievements. Yet while many view the law as a powerful tool for journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens to pursue the public good, FOIA is beset by massive backlogs, and corporations and the powerful have become adept at using it for their own interests. Close observers of laws like FOIA have begun to question whether these laws interfere with good governance, display a deleterious anti-public-sector bias, or are otherwise inadequate for the twenty-first century’s challenges.
Troubling Transparency brings together leading scholars from different disciplines to analyze freedom of information policies in the United States and abroad—how they are working, how they are failing, and how they might be improved. Contributors investigate the creation of FOIA; its day-to-day uses and limitations for the news media and for corporate and citizen requesters; its impact on government agencies; its global influence; recent alternatives to the FOIA model raised by the emergence of “open data” and other approaches to transparency; and the theoretical underpinnings of FOIA and the right to know. In addition to examining the mixed legacy and effectiveness of FOIA, contributors debate how best to move forward to improve access to information and government functioning. Neither romanticizing FOIA nor downplaying its real and symbolic achievements, Troubling Transparency is a timely and comprehensive consideration of laws such as FOIA and the larger project of open government, with wide-ranging lessons for journalism, law, government, and civil society.