Open records are essential

Editoral Board


Our founding fathers set forth a government with clear stipulations for the President, Congress and the Supreme Court. What they didn’t outline was how transparent each branch of government must be. Not because they were big on secrets but because for them open government was just common sense.

Times have changed, the world has become more dangerous, and government has used that as an excuse to keep secrets from the people who pay its bills. It wasn’t until 1966 that the United States passed its Freedom of Information Act, which makes all records controlled by the federal government available to the public. There are nine exceptions pertaining to active police investigations, threats to national security and proprietary information among others.

Because of the FOIA every single American citizen has the right to request any document under federal control. It’s not just for journalists, it’s for everybody, for anything the federal government has on just about any topic.

The FOIA has led to every state in the union passing some form of a sunshine law. South Dakota’s sunshine laws are often rated as among the weakest. For example, a city council is required to make all of its decisions in a public meeting. State government documents are also available to the public unless they fall under one of 27 exceptions. You also have to pay for paper copies and the man-hours it took to find them.

The people who pay the government’s bills, every single tax payer, has an absolute right to know what their employees are doing. Be it the highest elected official or the lowliest civil servant. What these people do for a living impacts every American’s daily lives and they must be held accountable for their actions. That’s what open records laws are for.

The right to know what government is doing on our behalf is as fundamental as the right to free speech. Take a look at what your state, local and federal governments are doing it is your right to know. Even check out the Students’ Association on campus.

Stance: Take advantage of the opportunites you have to patrol goverment.