ACLU Applauds Lawmakers for Examining Government Transparency, Sunshine Week Hearing Shows Overclassification Harms Democracy

March 14, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a key House panel for examining the issue of document overclassification. The hearing comes during Sunshine Week, a public education effort coordinated by journalists stressing openness in government. This is the third hearing in a series on overclassification initially sparked by the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency programs that are reclassifying and removing documents from the National Archives.

“The transparency of our government is crucial to a strong and vibrant democracy,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The retroactive process of reclassifying documents already cleared for public access is simply wrong and, frankly, suspect. Americans are forced to believe the worst about the CIA and DIA for such surreptitious behavior. We must be able to trust that our government agencies are working for America’s best interests – not their own.”

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations met today to discuss the CIA and DIA’s reclassification programs, as well to hear testimony by witnesses from federal agencies and private organizations. During a prior hearing, the witnesses stated that 20 to 50% percent of documents presently classified should not be confidential.

Originally started by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, Sunshine Week is a nationwide effort led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to inform Americans of their right to an open government. Since the program’s launch in Florida, the FSNE can take credit for the defeat of over 300 legislative initiatives to curb government openness in Florida. The ACLU called this success an encouraging model that sets a standard for the entire nation. Today’s subcommittee hearing is an important step towards the open and honest government that Americans expect and deserve.

An important tool in the fight for open government is the Freedom of Information Act. By enacting FOIA, Congress created a procedure through which any person can exercise the public’s general right to request and obtain access to particular agency records. The ACLU has filed FOIA requests with the FBI and NSA to retrieve information about their domestic spying and infiltration of peaceful groups such as Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among others.

“Government oversight is essential for the checks and balances needed for an honest and functioning democracy,” said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. “We are safer when our government operates openly. We cannot and should not blindly trust our leaders to do the right thing, as evidenced by President Bush’s warrantless spying on Americans. Americans must continue to ask the tough questions of those they put into elected office. An informed and candid debate requires real government transparency.”

For more information on the ACLU’s concerns with government spying, go to:

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