Getting Public Records:
Your Right to Know!
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 activismACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDSis
currently under attack! (For more information see, The
Day Ashcroft Foiled FOIA, San Francisco Chronicle,
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.