Information Lockdown in the Age of Total Information Awareness

On October 12, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft released a memo urging federal agencies to deny Freedom of Information Act requests promising the full protection of the Department of Justice. One of the best tools for activism—ACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDS—is currently under attack! (For more information see, “The Day Ashcroft Foiled FOIA”, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/07/2003).

The Bush administration is coupling these moves to deny our right to information with threats to our civil liberties. In the wake of September 11th, it introduced a “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) system to revolutionize the way the U.S. government collects information on individuals and dissent. TIA has already received criticism for the civil and human rights violations the program permits. TIA enables the government to collect personal and private information about citizens and non-citizens in a manner never seen before.

The Bush Administration sees no contradiction with the fact that they are expanding their information collection on people and organizations while simultaneously attacking our right to request and review information on government agencies and operations. But data collection and information access is inherently a tool for democracy and a weapon of authority. For example, schools that receive federal funds from the No Child Left Behind Act are required to give military recruiters full access to students, including their personal information.

Defend your right to know! File a public records request today.

Freedom of Information Act & Open Records Laws

The federal Freedom of Information Act and state Open Records Laws can be successfully used to get government agencies to hand over information you need (and have every right to). Whether you want to see your school district’s budget or find out the demographics of whose locked up in your local juvenile hall, you are talking about getting hold of government agency records. Filing public records requests is fun and easy and often an essential step in mounting an effective campaign!

Freedom of Information Act, a.k.a. FOIA, first passed by the U.S. Congress in 1966, applies only to federal agencies (like the Defense Department or the U.S. Postal Service.) It requires them to collect, prepare, and release certain records for public review. Requests, always made in writing, must be responded to in writing and in a timely manner-usually 10 working days. You typically pay for copies and postage. All rejections must be explained in writing, citing the legal exemption and explaining the reason for denial.

Open Records Laws are state and local versions of FOIA. These laws apply to most nonfederal agencies in the state, including school boards, city governments, and cops. Check your state or city’s specific laws.

Creating a Freedom of Information Act Request

Produced by DataCenter’s Youth Strategy Project for YouthAction, Spring 2003.