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Cyber-Rights: Government documents online


Government documents online

One of the potential benefits that electronic networks offer to democracy is free, fast, easy access to all kinds of government documents. Citizens and their public-interest representatives can then enter the political debate with more hope of having an effect. The THOMAS site is one well-known example of this movement, offering information on U.S. Congress and its bills. Some countries in the European Union asked in 1999 for the EU to post its agendas and decisions online.

In 2001, the Bush administration reconfirmed that it wanted to post information online, and allocated money for that effort even in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks. But initiatives to put information and services online have been slowed not only by financial and organizational hurdles, but by concerns about privacy. Information is hard to protect, once it's online, and easy searches may let malicious people aggregate information about individuals. Furthermore, the terror attacks have caused many agencies to pull information off the Internet that they think could be used to plan further attacks. This trend is probably more harmful than helpful in the long run, because public interest groups and journalists need full disclosure on issues like environmental hazards to play a watchdog role.

After long campaigns by activist Jim Warren and others, the state of California put a large amount of information online.

When the government of South Africa decided not to keep the historic Truth and Reconciliation report online, but to sell it on CD-ROM instead, a petition asked them to make it available online again.

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Last updated: December 19, 2001

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