The Freedom of Information Act – The Public Has the Right to Know
It is actually great to be American. America is not only the land of opportunity but also the land of transparency. That is, the information possessed by the government is open to the public. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) obligates state’s authorities to give the citizens almost full access to their docket archives.
Practically speaking, in most states, you can easily do a background check on people that matter to you (e.g. your employees). In some states, it is easier than others. For example, to track a person’s criminal history in North Carolina, all you have to do is go your the county’s Clerk of Court and ask them do run a background check on a certain person with minimum fee (around $20).
Some states are more reluctant to convey criminal history information. In California, for instance, you can only check on yourself and not on a third person. But there are dozens of states like North Carolina where records can be obtained without any limitation. Among these states are Florida and Texas.
We believe that transparency is vital for good governance. It is a bulwark against tyranny. Information is power and if everyone has access to it, then no one can abuse it. This principle goes hand in hand with the US constitution and our founding fathers.
True, some point to the right to privacy which is violated by FOIA. However, if a person has nothing to hide, then he should not be afraid to let others pry into his records. If he does have something to hide, then he might be posing a threat to public safety and in that case, it is imperative that his criminal history becomes public record.
Sex offenders are a good example. Should their criminal records be concealed because of their right to privacy? What about the public’s right to know that a former sex offender lives in their area. Do people do not have the right to be able to defend their loved ones from sexual predators?
1) What is FOIA – The U.S. Department of Justice
2) The public right to know vs. privacy – Indiana University