Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On access restrictions

The Star-Phoenix editorial board is thoroughly annoyed that individuals are able to use access-to-information legislation to do actual research and reporting. And it wants to see those unprovoked acts of journalism come to an end:
But sometimes the fault doesn't lie with the civil servant so much as it does with the political motives of the people demanding the information. In the case of the city's backlog, almost all of the requests come from two citizens -- with the vast majority coming from one -- who have a political agenda to prove conspiracies and back-room dealing.

A six-year delay in processing a claim, even when the delay is outside the city's control, plays into those theories.
By having each step and decision done in the open, the public can determine whether the interim rulings by the city, commissioner and judge are reasonable.

And it also would put pressure on those who would blanket officials with costly, frivolous and politically motivated requests to curtail their abuses.
Now, it's one thing if an individual is actually motivated by a desire to annoy a particular government institution or local authority rather than to actually discover information. And in that type of case there's reason to want to build in protections against such genuinely frivolous requests.

But the fact that a few individuals have enough interest in politics to make the effort to use every citizen's right to access and share public documents should be seen as a plus for government transparency, not an "abuse" to be curbed. And if the access systems currently in place don't include enough resources to answer the requests of a couple of citizens, then that failure to make access a priority - not the fact that the requests are being made - is the problem that demands a solution.

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