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Taking it to the people

From the Winter 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 6. President Barack Obama wasted no time…

From the Winter 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 6.

President Barack Obama wasted no time in declaring a commitment to communicating directly with Americans. Rather than funneling messages through the news media or other avenues, he has made it clear he intends to use new technology to get information straight to the public.

This method seems to bring fruition to a 13-year-old law that never was fully implemented — the Electronic FOIA Amendments of 1996. The intent of that law was to bypass typical governmental red tape and get information directly out to the public using the Internet. The hope was that with documents proactively provided, the public would file fewer FOIA requests because they’d have ready access to what they wanted.

The Obama administration seems genuinely committed to ready access. The Day One memo on Transparency and Open Government directs agencies to “harness new technologies” to spread information about operations and decisions. Obama has declared that the presidential Web site, www.whitehouse.gov, will be more easily searchable in public databases and will provide more public content.

Some of the news media takes this entire direction with reservation, concerned that it will result in less direct access for them. But public officials beyond the White House are embracing new technologies to keep citizens informed of their goings-on. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) recently came under fire for divulging too much information regarding his travels in Iraq via Twitter.com, a site that allows users to give real-time dispatches on their lives.

It’s unlikely Obama will start “tweeting” from his super-secret Blackberry-like device, but his clear message is that he wants to cut the red tape and get information directly to the people.