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Open Government in Florida

On the 12th of March, 2016, a forum on the importance of open government was hosted by the News-Press Media Group and the League of Women Voters. Held under the name “Open Government & YOU,” it was a part of the Sunshine Week, a nationwide movement, initiated by the American Society of News Editors, aimed towards educating the general populace about the dangers posed by excessive government secrecy and the importance of and open government.

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The state of Florida has always been adamant on the rights of its citizens to be the overseers of their authority officials and has been a firm proponent of the Sunshine laws, aimed at making the actions of those officials transparent to the public. The driving concern behind this forum was the fear that these laws were being overridden by privacy concerns and outside influences.

One of the main arguments against complete openness is the matter of privacy being threatened. On the other hand, the lack of openness and transparency leads to a drop in government accountability. It has been proven numerous times with stories such as the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, the WikiLeaks Cable leak scandal, or the much more recent Panama Papers scandal, all of which deal with hidden activities of government organizations and officials coming to the surface. The truth is that while the US and other involved persons suffered damage as a result of whistleblowers’ actions that triggered these scandals, transparency would have deterred them from engaging in unfavorable activities in the first place, in the same way, a car alarm discourages a thief.

Ultimately, the sides involved in the forum have a solid stance that a “government functions best when it operates in the open” (Dukes, 2016, par. 1). They believe that democracy requires as a society of informed citizens to function as intended. However, in the forum, they brought up the issues of the government introducing mitigating factors that, while technically don’t overrule the Sunshine laws, create obstacles that limit what information the press and public can access. For example, access is often limited by high fees imposed by the officials, which makes the whole point of transparency moot. Similarly, the Florida Sunshine Laws were instituted with over 200 exemptions, which include federal records which have been determined as non-public by the federal government, city employees’ personal correspondence made through a government computer and data sensible enough to override the openness laws (Florida FOIA Laws). While these regulations do protect privacy rights, the vagueness creates leeway for all kinds of abuse.

Privacy versus accountability is a very dividing debate, with proponents on both sides of the discussion providing strong arguments, both supported by, respectively, the fourth and first amendments to the constitution. The concern of the forum backers, however, is the capacity for misuse. As the NSA scandal showed, lack of transparency can lead directly to an attack on privacy. Thus, it is essential that these two sides are not sacrificed one for the other. Instead, it is vital that the people, in good faith, uphold the spirit of both.

In conclusion, we need to refer to the Constitution and the First Amendment itself. It guarantees the citizens of the US the right to free speech, free press and availability of government data as a crucial factor in the preservation of our democracy. This is not a new issue, because the “Father of the Constitution” himself, James Medison, acknowledged that, in relation to the educational system, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”(Medison, 1822) In a similar vein, people should know what’s going on in their country, and what decisions are made in their name and “for their own good”.

References

Dukes, T. (2016). Sunshine Week to celebrate government transparency. WRAL.com. Web.

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Florida FOIA Laws. (n.d.). Web.

Medison, J. (1822). The Writings of James Madison [Letter to W. T. Barry].

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 26). Open Government in Florida. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/open-government-in-florida/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 26). Open Government in Florida. https://studycorgi.com/open-government-in-florida/

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"Open Government in Florida." StudyCorgi, 26 Dec. 2021, studycorgi.com/open-government-in-florida/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Open Government in Florida." December 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/open-government-in-florida/.


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StudyCorgi. "Open Government in Florida." December 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/open-government-in-florida/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Open Government in Florida." December 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/open-government-in-florida/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Open Government in Florida'. 26 December.

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