A strong right of access to government information is a key component of an accountable government. In the simplest sense, accountability is being answerable for performance or results. Much of the public's trust rests upon the government being openly accountable for its decisions, actions and mistakes. When the government operates in secret or refuses to disclose information to the public, it is in essence stripping the public of its ability to oversee and hold the government accountable.
National security has long been recognized as a legitimate reason to restrict information from the public. The risk comes in not finding the proper balance between security and the public's right to know. Government, already a reluctant releaser of information, may overuse national security as a means to hide additional information. The late Supreme Court Justice Byron White foresaw this exact danger when he noted, "the label of 'national security' may cover a multitude of sins."
Information has always been the fuel that powers the engine of environmental, health and safety protection. History shows that when environmental or health problems are made public, the public demands action, and government acts. But rules on access to information, including environmental, health and safety information, are now under drastic assault.
The people's right to know is a foundation of democracy. Throughout history, the cardinal element in the formation of democratic societies -- the element most feared and suppressed by totalitarian rulers -- has been an informed, active citizenry. The more citizens know, the better prepared and more motivated they are to participate effectively in the decisions that affect their lives, their property, and their physical and economic well being.