FOIA at 50: How American Views of Transparency Have Changed
By Lily Rothman, TIME, July 21, 2016
The Freedom of Information Act was passed a half-century ago this month. A lot has changed since then
It started in 1953, when California Congressman John Emerson Moss Jr. was denied a request to access information from the U.S. Civil Service Commission. His quest to establish a “right to know”—something that is not contained in the Constitution, and was coined in the mid-20th century—led directly to the passage, 50 years ago this month, of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bill passed unanimously in the House and, despite the numerous exceptions already enshrined within it, changed the role of secrecy in American government by shifting the burden of justification from those who would uncover to those who would shield.
The change wasn’t only on paper: the lifespan of FOIA has been contemporaneous with a major shift in the way Americans think about transparency, as shown by historical opinion polls compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research in honor of the law’s anniversary.
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