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What Is Government Disclosure?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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Government disclosure refers to the act of public entities making information available. In many cases, when information is shared it is not merely a matter of good will, but rather a matter of law. In the United States (US), for example, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides individuals with a wide range of rights regarding access to information about government offices, their affairs and their employees. Complying with these regulations does not always work in the favor of the current administration, political parties, and others who are actively involved with government.

In a democratic society, government and its agents are supposed to be servants of the people. It is commonly held that those entities are most likely to act in the best interest of the citizens that they serve when there is transparency. For this reason, in many developed nations, government entities are bound by strict policies that grant the public rights to most of the information that relates to public entities. These rights do not, however, extend to information that is classified.

In the US, all federal government agencies are subject to FOIA. This means that all, except a small classified portion, of each agency's affairs is public information. Upon request, agencies are obligated to provide members of the public with responses to questions or access to the information they request. This can be information about expenditures, employee activities, or department policies.

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FOIA also makes it mandatory for these governmental bodies to make certain information public without request. Although state governments may have policies that vary from those of the federal government, most have similar transparency regulations. This sort of government disclosure is believed to be highly beneficial to the people. It can help keep government offices honest and efficient and help citizens determine which areas of government are effective or ineffective.

It does not always, however, work in the interest of an administration or a political party. Information that is revealed to the public can influence election results, move citizens to pressure officials to act on a certain matter, or create civil unrest. This is likely to be part of the reason why development and good government disclosure tend to be related. In less developed countries, where there is a great deal of corruption, cronyism, and other injustice, it is common to find a lack of willingness to share information with the public, even if government disclosure laws exist.

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Discuss this Article

jmc88
Post 4

I have to wonder exactly how the government can get around disclosing certain documents and what the process is in the courts in order to do so.

I am sure that there is a process for this as the government is bound by the law and must release information to the public, unless there is a good reason like national security attached.

I am just wondering if it is something like national security and the government does not want to have the information released how do they explain their reasoning to the court?

It is too easy fro the government to just say it is a matter of national security without a court review of it. If that were the case, they could claim that on about anything, so there must be some sort of court review involved or some type of process out there to go about this so everything is nice and legal.

matthewc23
Post 3

@JimmyT - The Kennedy Assassination is a very unique instance in history that happened at a very weird time as the assassination of a major public official, like Kennedy, could have started nuclear war with the Soviets if not handled the right way. That is why at the time they decided to seal the records so as to simply get around this sensitive issue and to also try and protect people that were innocent, yet had their names associated with the report as witnesses or simply people that were involved in the course of events.

A presidential assassination is a very unique instance in history that everyone wants to know, but the government has to be careful as to what to release to the public. The records will be released in 2017, once a law overriding the Freedom of Information Act expires.

This is an instance where there is an exception to the law and it was done to prevent people from getting hurt by the government disclosure of such a sensitive topic.

Instances like this do happen and people cry afoul when they do, but sometimes it is done with the interests of innocent people's reputations in mind and is done to protect those people until a date when damage will not happen or be as severe.

JimmyT
Post 2

@cardsfan27 - I know that there are certain instances in which it is best fro the government to not release certain information that could potentially harm people or in fact be a danger to national security if it were to released, but what about instances like the Kennedy Assassination Senate hearings that have been yet to be released nearly fifty years after the hearings?

These types of things, even if sealed, are usually released a few years after simply due to the fact that it is something that the public needs to know. Nearly fifty years have passed and we have yet to hear anything at all and even the Freedom of Information Act will not apply to this issue.

Sometimes the government does go along with the law and the Freedom of Information Act and make things public knowledge, that should be, but sometimes they circumvent the law in a way to prevent this from happening.

cardsfan27
Post 1

The Freedom of Information Act is one of the great laws that has been passed as it allows the people of the United States the freedom to petition their government for information concerning certain topics that are in the public interest and the government must comply to their requests.

I know that there are certain instances in which it is definitely in the best interest of the nation to not release certain information, such as if it could corrupt a process that needs to stay pure, like and election, or if it is a matter of national security that can potentially endanger people.

When instances like this happen it is always a mess in the courts, but it is something that is understood as long as it is reasonable that it is not released.

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