Ironically, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl recently invoked a tool to secretly object and withhold from consideration in the United States Senate a bill modifying the Freedom of Information Act. In contrast to Senator Kyl’s initially secret actions, the legislation known as the Open Government Act had been drafted to make government activity less secret and more open to public scrutiny. Senator Kyl anonymously objected to the bill amending the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which would close various loopholes in the Act and require payment of costs and attorneys fees in the event government responses to FOIA requests are untimely or incomplete. After public scrutiny, Senator Kyl revealed his actions:
Kyl revealed his identity Thursday, days after the bill’s backers launched an e-mail and telephone campaign, urging supporters to help in “smoking out ‘Senator Secrecy.’ ” They pointed out the irony that an open-government bill was being blocked using a rule that allowed secrecy.
In the past, I have written about the need for open access to public records which do not contain social security numbers, or other confidential and privileged information. Perhaps Senator Kyl’s political decision to anonymously attempt to block the bill presents the precise reason why the legislation should pass. Public records which do not contain private, privileged or otherwise confidential information should not be withheld for political purposes. The key to democracy requires that we have access to and understand what our government does.