Monday, March 17, 2014

Sunshine Week: Shining a Light on Government

March 16-22, 2014 is Sunshine Week, an annual event to promote the importance of government transparency. Sunshine Week highlights such issues as increased access to public records, the importance of Freedom of Information Acts at the state and federal levels, and other government accountability concerns.

One new participant this year is the Coalition for Court Transparency, which calls upon the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the video broadcast of oral arguments. The Coalition's website includes a petition to Chief Justice John Roberts, and an advertisement calling for "a more open judiciary". (Supreme Court justices have long resisted efforts to allow televised oral arguments. Last month, a political activist posted hidden camera footage taken during oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, a pending high-profile case from this term which has been dubbed "Citizens United II".)

Freedom of information and enhanced access to public records are both frequent subjects of discussion during Sunshine Week. The federal government and all 50 states have enacted statutes ensuring that citizens may request public records related to the functions of government (see a summary of state laws by the National Freedom of Information Center). However, as the Raleigh News & Observer pointed out in a recent story, governments often do not respond to such requests in a timely manner. FOIA.gov, the federal government's Freedom of Information Act portal page, allows users to create interactive reports which display the processing time for various agencies, including an option to view the ten oldest pending requests for each agency.

To learn more about the federal Freedom of Information Act, check out titles in the Goodson Law Library collection like Guidebook to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts (KF5753 .B682 2013) or The Federal Information Manual: How the Government Collects, Manages, and Discloses Information Under FOIA and Other Statutes (KF5753 .G53 2013). To find additional titles on freedom of information or government transparency, search the Duke Libraries Catalog or Ask a Librarian.

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