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Some fifteen years after the Internet became a common household phenomenon in the United States, a bill has finally been introduced in the House of Representatives which would post all public government information online:
On Monday, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) introduced complementary legislative proposals in the House and Senate that are intended to improve public access to government records. The Tester-Israel Public Online Information Act (POIA, pronounced poy-ah) would require all government-held information that’s already supposed to be public to be posted online. “By freeing government information from its paper silos, the Public Online Information Act gives the public what they need to participate in government as active and informed citizens,” said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation.
The liberated information will include reports on lobbying activities by government contractors, financial filings of high-level government officials, and information on the trips made by executive branch officials and paid for by non-government third parties.
Although there are obvious shortcomings to the bill – for instance, information dated before the passage of the bill will not be compiled online – it is a welcomed step in the right direction. As a representative democracy, it is imperative that citizens of the United States have access to any and all relevant information concerning the actions of their elected officials. Previously, keeping track of such information was a difficult and time-consuming endeavor, as nuggets of valuable information were literally buried beneath mountains of arbitrary paperwork. The Internet, of course, represents a great leap forward in the sharing of information, and posting these documents online will allow citizens to quickly and easily search them for relevant data.
The issue here is closely linked to that of Wikileaks, which is essentially a discussion of the limits of freedom of information in a society that claims to be founded on democratic ideals. It is my firm belief that citizens should have access to any and all information related to the actions of their government, and Wikileaks has helped us towards that end. While it is certainly true that governments could easily manipulate a system of public, online transparency, Wikileaks has set a profound precedent in the fight against government secrecy.
I have long posited that any enemies the United States possesses were created by our own actions. Therefore, we should have absolutely nothing to fear by making all activities of our government open to the public eye. Absolutely everything – every bill, every transaction, the minutes from every meeting – should be made available online for all to see. Without such complete and total transparency, it impossible to retain a government for, of, and by the people, and government will remain instead the tool for corporate enrichment that it is today.