Term Paper: Freedom of Information vs. Privacy and Security

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Freedom of information vs. privacy and security represents a fundamental democratic debate. While each is important for ensuring that democracy remains, these issues stand in direct contrast to one another. Given the importance of all of these issues, this research considers both sides of the debate in an effort to elucidate the challenges that exist when it comes to finding a middle ground. Recommendations for improving outcomes are also considered in this research.

Freedom of Information vs. Privacy and Security

The terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 highlighted the security vulnerabilities of the United States. While the federal government was quick to respond to this event, subsequently passing the U.S.A. Patriot Act, the changes that occurred as a result of this event and the legislation served to reignite the debate over freedom of information vs. privacy and security. At a time when both the federal government and the American people want more freedom of information, there is a direct question as to how these two unique needs can be met in the context of social and legal discourse.

With the realization that freedom of information vs. privacy and security represent such a unique dichotomy for American society, there is a direct impetus to consider both sides of this debate and the challenge that arise in balancing these issues. Using this as a basis for investigation, this research considers the debate over freedom of information vs. privacy and security. Specifically, this research considers: the importance of freedom of information, the way in which freedom of information compromises privacy and security and potential methods that could be used to improve outcomes in this area. Through a careful review of these issues, it will be possible to elucidate the challenges that arise when freedom of information is posited against privacy and security.

2. FREEDOM of INFORMATION: AN OVERVIEW

In order to begin this investigation, it is first pertinent to consider what has been noted about the importance of freedom of information. By examining the importance of this issue, it will be possible to develop a clear understanding of this side of the issue. This data can then be compared to issues of privacy and security to demonstrate the overall challenges that exist when it comes to effectively meeting the needs of the American public.

2.1 Freedom of Information Act critical review of freedom of information in the United States demonstrates that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act passed in 1966 is the historical basis for debate about information freedom in the United States [1]. According to one scholar, the Act is unique because the "legislation works by conferring to the public the legal right to ask for and receive information held by public bodies. Enforceability is what sets FOI laws apart from general pledges of access to information made by governments. In the United States, the FOIA is enforceable in court..."[1]. This scholar goes on to report that even though the law provides citizen access to information, it relies on the process of exemptions for the federal government to restrict access to specific types of information. As such, if a government agency wishes to deem certain material inappropriate for the public, it must receive a federal decree to restrict access to information.

Although the FIO Act provides clear guidelines for allowing the transfer of information from government to citizens, researchers report that in wake of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush has made extensive efforts to restrict the freedom of information that is provided to individuals and non-government agencies [2]. Citing the need for national security as a the central reason for restricting the freedom of information, scholars have argued that the basic rights conferred under the Freedom of Information Act have been markedly compromised as a result of this situation [2]. Restrictions on freedom of information will make it more difficult for the American public to effectively garner transparency and accountability in government. This was the original intention of the FIO legislation [2].

2.2 Problems that Can Arise Without Freedom of Information

With a basic overview of the current FIO legislation and its current problems elucidated, it is now possible to consider the problems that could arise as a result of the current situation -- i.e. restriction of freedom of information. Reviewing the development of the FIO Act, it becomes evident that the central purpose of freedom of information, as developed by the federal government, was to increase transparency and accountability in government operations [3]. Supporters of the legislation argued that without this Act in place, the government would not be held accountable for its actions. Thus, freedom of information provides citizens with a clear understanding of the how and why of government action [3].

When placed in this context, it becomes evident that significant problems may arise as a result of removing freedom of information. Without information, citizens would be at the mercy of government, having no real understanding of how bureaucracy works. This could prompt the development of more extensive corruption in government and create a situation in which citizens are literally disenfranchised from those that govern. Scholars examining this issue have gone so far as to argue that freedom of information is a democratic right that, if removed from legal discourse, would compromise the ability of American citizens to effective participate and sustain a democracy [2].

3. PRIVACY and SECURITY

Although freedom of information is intended to provide citizens with access to pertinent information, the downside of this process is that it may compromise privacy and, in the post-9/11 world, security. With these issues in mind, it is now pertinent to consider the challenges that have been noted when it comes to privacy and security in the wake of providing access to freedom of information. Through a careful review of these issues, it will be possible to provide a clear basis for the dichotomy created in balancing all of these issues.

3.1 the Need for Privacy and Security

Researchers examining freedom of information report that in an effort to safeguard the privacy of both the federal government and the American public, protocols have been put in place which effectively limits the amount and type of information available to the public [4]. If issues such as privacy and/or security are dominant areas of concern, efforts are made to restrict access to information [2]. This safeguard helps to ensure that critical personal information is not provided to individuals that could use it to do harm to another. Of increasing importance in this area is the ability of agencies to protect individuals from identity theft. As the use of computer technology has increased access to information, further safeguards are needed to ensure that privacy and security are protected [4].

Although access to information is clearly an important issue for ensuring the democracy remains, the reality is that without safeguards in place to protect security and privacy, the entire context of a democracy fails. Researchers examining this issue have been quick to note that balancing freedom of information with privacy and security is one of the greatest challenges facing democratic society [2]. If privacy and security are not maintained, the federal government will be unable to control society and anarchy will ensue. Thus, without privacy and security, the federal government would be highly ineffective in its efforts to provide support for the American people. When placed in this context, the true nature of the dichotomy that is created in this situation is elucidated.

3.2 Threats to Security and Privacy

While the need for privacy and security are quite evident overall, it is clear that there are a host of threats to privacy and security that extend beyond the legislative limits of the FIO Act. Although the Freedom of Information Act provides safeguards which can be used to protect sensitive information, scholars argue that in recent years, the proliferation of computer technology has created a new vulnerability which has ramifications for protecting safety and security [5]. In order to effectively manage and evaluate information, the government now uses complex information technology (it) infrastructure which is vulnerable to attack [5]. Hence the question of privacy and security now becomes one of determining how to protect private and secure information from exposure through weak it systems.

Examined in this context, it becomes clear that the application of computer technology to the freedom of information debate has further exacerbated the dilemma. While computer and information technology systems are clearly needed to ensure that agencies are able to manage and examine data, this situation has created a notable vulnerability with respect to the public's overall access to information. Further, because of this situation, researchers argue that freedom of information is being compromised in an effort to ensure that privacy and security remain the central focus of protecting individual citizens from harm. Therefore, even though freedom of information is an important part of social and political development, efforts to protect sensitive data and personal information appear to be taking precedence over the right to access information freely.

3.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Freedom of Information vs. Privacy and Security."  Essaytown.com.  November 23, 2007.  Accessed August 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/freedom-information-privacy-security/903204.