A brief history on Freedom of Information legislation

Published: July 04, 2016 by Anna Maloney


Government archives and records programs at the local, state, and federal levels all contribute to open government initiatives and support Freedom of Information laws. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the federal Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to make publicly available by request those records related to statements of policy, interpretations, and staff manuals. But where did this political ideal originate?

In a recent Huffington Post article, Dunja Mijatović traces FOI legislation back to Peter Forsskål, whose uncensored 1759 publication “Thoughts on Civil Liberty” was predicated on the notion that “society could settle its disputes through debate and discussion and that, in essence, the government apparatus and its workings should be open to public inspection and criticism.” In a modern day, fully functioning democratic society, it is easy to underestimate the fundamental right to access the records of our elected representatives.

As you celebrate Independence Day, take a moment to consider how archivists and records managers can use technological advancements, policy development, and popularized professional discourse to fortify FOI legislation, an indisputable pillar to open government and our collective freedoms, and to secure the records deemed critical to our national security.

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