Studies and research

Here are studies and reports regarding the state of secrecy and freedom of information:

Secrecy on the rise

These studies demonstrate the increasing amount of secrecy, particularly in the federal government.

Importance of access for the public good

  • Open Doors (2001). This study, conducted by the Society of Professional Journalists, examined more than 4,000 news stories in 20 different media outlets during January 2001, finding that 27 percent of newspaper articles are based on public records, http://www.spj.org/opendoors5.asp.
  • The Lost Stories (2003) by Jennifer LaFleur for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, looks at all the stories that can’t be done now because of secrecy laws, particularly driver’s licenses, medical records and homeland security, http://www.rcfp.org/loststories/.

Longer waits for less information

These studies demonstrate the delays in getting information despite FOIA’s 20-day response requirement. Also show why requests are delayed for journalists.

  • Justice Delayed is Justice Denied (2003) by The National Security Archives studied delays in access, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB102/press.htm.
  • 40 Years of FOIA, 20 Years of Delay (2007), by The National Security Archives found the oldest pending FOIA requests going back more than 20 years,  http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB102/press.htm.
  • Administrative discretion and the access to information act: An “internal law” on open government (2002), by Alasdair Roberts, Maxwell School of Syracuse University. An analysis of 2,120 Access to Information Act records requests between 1999 and 2001 in Canada found that journalists received longer delays (averaged 63 days) and more restrictive decisions on disclosure than most other users (political parties also experienced delays). In Canadian Public Administration, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 175-194.
  • Spin control and freedom of information: Lessons for the United Kingdom from Canada (2005), by Alasdair Roberts. An analysis of 25,806 Canadian Access to Information Act requests from 2000 to 2002 found that agencies delay release of documents for journalists and political parties to time disclosure for rebutting criticisms made against the government when a story is published based on the records. Requests took longer than usual to complete for journalists and political parties (48 days or longer for some agencies). Alasdair calls this “communications management” by agencies to control information that is politically sensitive. In Public Administration, Vol. 83, No. 1, pp. 1-25.
  • Delay and the Freedom of Information Act: Senator Cornyn’s legislative prescriptions (2005), by Thomas Susman. Explains causes for delays in U.S. FOIA requests, including inadequate resources for processing requests, complexity of requests, the need for consulting with other agencies, little incentive to release, to mask embarrassment, to squash requests, particularly those from the media, and bureaucratic largesse. In Open Government, Vol. 1, Issue 2, at www.opengovjournal.org.
  • A Flawed Tool: SEJ Study Finds FOIA Little Used, Plagued by Delays, by Robert McClure, finds that two-thirds of 55 environmental journalists interviewed said they won’t bother with FOIA because of the delays and denials. In 15 SE J. (Society of Environmental Journalists) page 5 (2005), http://www.sejarchive.org/site/sejournal/past/sej_fa05.pdf.

Comparing state laws

These studies rank the states’ open record laws and their openness.

  • Freedom of Information in the USA (2002), Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Better Government Association rank states according to a survey of investigative journalists, http://www.ire.org/foi/bga/.
  • States failing FOI responsiveness (2007), National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Better Government Association rated the effectiveness of state laws regarding penalties for noncompliance and timeliness of response, http://www.nfoic.org/bga.
  • State of State Disclosure (2007), Good Jobs First evaluates the quantity and quality of state government Web-based disclosure on economic development subsidies, contracts, and state lobbying activities. Finds lack of disclosure. http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/pdf/statedisclosure.pdf.
  • States of Disclosure (2007), Center for Public Integrity ranks states by their openness in providing information about the financial interests of governors. http://projects.publicintegrity.org/StateDisclosure/Default.aspx?act=executive.

Who requests records: FOI not just a media issue

These studies show that the issue isn’t about the government vs. media. It’s about citizens and the economy. Some studies also indicate that journalists are treated differently in requests (have a more difficult time getting the records and receive them later because agencies want to avoid embarrassing stories).

  • Few journalists use the federal Freedom of Information Act (2001), the Heritage Foundation examined 2,285 federal FOIA requests to find that only 5 percent of requests of selected federal agencies in 2001 were submitted by journalists. Most submitted by lawyers and businesses, http://www.heritage.org/Press/MediaCenter/FOIA.cfm.
  • Frequent filers: Businesses make FOIA their business (2006), Coalition of Journalists for Open Government analyzed 6,439 FOIA requests in federal agencies to find that only 6 percent of requests are submitted by journalists. About two-thirds are submitted by commercial interests and the rests by citizens and non-profits. See summary at http://www.spj.org/rrr.asp?ref=31&t=foia.
  • Analysis of FOIA requests in the United Kingdom (2009), by Alasdair Roberts and Jerome L. Rappaport of Suffolk University Law School. Analyzed 15,627 FOIA requests in the United Kingdom between 2005 and 2008 to find that journalists accounted for 14.3% of requests and that agencies took the longest to respond to journalists than any other type of requester (on average 32 days).

Privacy vs. access

  • Privatization vs. the Public’s Right to Know (2007) by Rani Gupta for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, http://www.rcfp.org/privatization/index.html.
  • The public’s concern for privacy invasion and its relationship to support for press access to government records (2004), by David Cuillier, Newspaper Research Journal, 25(4), pp. 95-103. Telephone survey of Washington state residents finds that the more concerned people are of identity theft and privacy invasion, the less supportive they are of press access to government records.

Mediation and ombudsman

  • Mediation Without Litigation (2007) by Harry Hammitt for the National Freedom of Information Coalition describes state models for informal resolutions and mediation for FOI disputes. (http://www.nfoic.org/hammitt_mediation_without_litigation)
  • Measuring Attitudes about the Indiana Public Access Counselor’s Office (2008) by Tony Fargo of Indiana University, surveyed 218 people who had dealt with the state ombudsman, finding that stronger penalties are needed for noncompliance, http://indianacog.org/files/PAC_final2.pdf.
  • Managing Conflict Over Access: A Typology of Sunshine Law Dispute Resolution Systems (2008) by Daxton Stewart, analyzing the different methods of dispute resolution in the nation. Presented to the 2008 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference.

Public support for FOI

A half dozen public opinion surveys have focused on citizen attitudes toward FOI and press access to public records.

  • Citizen attitudes toward transparency in local government (2007), by Suzanne J. Piotrowski and Gregg G. Van Ryzin, The American Review of Public Administration, 37(3), pp. 306-323. Finds that people view records differently, depending on the nature of the records and that certain variables are related to support (e.g., trust in politicians, use of records, political ideology).
  • The public’s concern for privacy invasion and its relationship to support for press access to government records (2004), by David Cuillier, Newspaper Research Journal, 25(4), pp. 95-103. Telephone survey of Washington state residents finds that the more concerned people are of identity theft and privacy invasion, the less supportive they are of press access to government records.
  • Access attitudes: A social learning approach to examining community engagement and support for press access to government records (2008), by David Cuillier, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 95(3). Finds that the more people are interested in their communities the more supportive they are of FOI. See a summary.
  • Internet information-seeking and its relation to support for access to government records (2009), by David Cuillier and Suzanne Piotrowski, Government Information Quarterly, July 2009. Based on three public opinion studies, this paper found that the more someone uses the Internet for getting information, the greater support for access to public records (including journalists’ right to access public records).
  • Public support for access to government records: A national survey (2000) by Driscoll, Splichal, Salwen and Garrison, in Access Denied: Freedom of Information in the Information Age (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press), 23-35.

Access to court records

Universities’ lack of compliance

A variety of studies have shown that universities often don’t comply with the Campus Security Act (a.k.a. Clery Act or Buckley Amendment) in reporting crime on campus.

Access to law enforcement

  • Freedom of information covering prisons (2006), by Charles Davis and Joel Campbell for SPJ, http://www.spj.org/prisonaccess.asp.
  • Access to Police Records (2008) by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, provides summaries of open records laws for police records for each state.

Access to electronic records

Government records online

  • Fiscal transparency in N.C.: Surveying state and local governments (2008), by the John Locke Foundation, found that most government agencies fail to provide basic budget information online for the public. Advocates posting of budget and expense data online for the public, http://www.johnlocke.org/spotlights/display_story.html?id=199

Need for transparency in government

  • Defense contracting: Post-government employment of former DOD officials needs greater transparency (2008), report by the U.S. General Accounting Office urging greater transparency in where former government employees go to work to avoid taxpayers getting charged too much for federal contracts, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08485.pdf

One Response

  1. […] or deny requests more often to journalists than for other users (see compilation of research at the Art of Access website).  So make sure you have access to this information – and go get […]

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