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“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Fourth Amendment, as generally interpreted, establishes a citizen’s right to personal privacy unless the government can prove otherwise. Unfortunately, a fair amount of people seem to think that right to privacy follows them into public service. This is how we end up with improperly closed meetings, policy settled over email, tight fists on documents and funds that aren’t subject to proper oversight.
Unlike with private citizens, who should be safe to operate with privacy as a default setting, government officials should presume everything they do is subject to public scrutiny unless secrecy is provably advantageous.
And yes, there are indeed instances where privacy is preferable. Say a city council is negotiating a major purchase, such as land. Closing those discussions might well keep costs under control. A school district ought to be able to accept sealed bids so it can award contracts that get taxpayers the best deal. Employee disciplinary matters require respect for a worker’s individual rights to privacy and due process. Taxpayers can’t just wander into a prison or judge’s chamber or demand to ride shotgun in a squad car.
Few reasonable people would ask such matters to be fully public. The problems begin when elected and appointed officials seek shelter from scrutiny simply because they prefer the personal security.
As has been written here time and again, any resources a government body has becomes public simply by virtue of being held by the government. When a police agency legally seizes private assets, it does so with the staffing power of employees whose salary and benefits come from tax dollars. When a school district purchases band uniforms it could not afford but for private donations, it’s still acquiring an asset that instantly becomes public property.
Full financial oversight therefore ought to be the rule and not the exception. If any fund is to be isolated from the standard accounting procedures, the people in charge should first explain why that arrangement is in everyone’s best interests. It’s not much different from the guiding principle of the Freedom of Information Act: all records are open and the government has the burden of proof when it wants to deny release of public information.
Often arguments like this from people like me are taken as another whiny journalist complaining about having to jump through hoops. And while it would be foolish to pretend signing on to write for a newspaper bestows some sort of infallibility or strips a person of all human bias, it also must be said — repeatedly — that government secrecy isn’t about reporters, it’s about whether you, the taxpayer, have a full understanding of how your dollars are spent.
Need a citation? Consider the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which opens with the following 101 words:
“Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”
The law does reference news media a few times, generally lumping us in with nonprofit, scientific and academic organizations as those that can request information without it counting against a private person’s filings. That’s a welcome group, because not every FOIA request leads to a headline. Just like a scientific study that can prove inconclusive, sometimes a reporter’s request to review a record merely confirms business was conducted as usual. That doesn’t mean asking was wrong or wasteful, but neither does it prove privacy was purposeful.
Most folks will never be the big boss or own the company. At work we’re employees, while shopping we have only as much sway as our bankroll provides. But the government doesn’t run without our contributions, and that reality can and should empower us to insist on exercising our right to know.
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Source : http://www.mywebtimes.com/opinion/columnists/salmagundi-fundamental-privacy-is-a-right-for-people-not-government/article_466a4c60-af68-5df2-a01f-fcee25440881.html