Sunday, April 24, 2005

McDermott: Feds closing the door to information

Florence Olsen, Federal Computer Week

Patrice McDermott remembers when government information was freely available on the Web. Beginning about 1994 and up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal employees published thousands of documents on the Internet. Information that previously had been difficult to find suddenly was easy to get.

The mood then was "let a thousand flowers bloom," said McDermott, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations. "People were independently putting a lot of stuff up. There was not a lot of oversight."

But lately, McDermott has seen the flowering of electronic access to government information begin to fade. It's one of several trends that worry her.

Another is that prospects for expanding e-government, which she said looked promising in the early days of the Bush administration, now appear diminished. Administration officials who favor more government secrecy in the wake of the terrorist attacks seem to have gained the upper hand, she said.

Since the attacks, online government information has been disappearing, and McDermott said that is a dangerous trend. "The greatest risk to the public is the notion that the government should withhold anything that might potentially be of use to terrorists," she said.

Truer words were never spoken.

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