Editorial | Americans deserve transparency from institutions

In a time rife with political turmoil, the American people need transparency from our leaders now more than ever. We need to know what’s going on — the full stories — in order to make informed opinions about our elected officials and how they’re handling the offices we gave them.

The public relies on news outlets to provide these full stories and deliver them in an unbiased, factual way. Therefore, when Freedom of Information Act requests are denied by our institutions, our comprehension of the issues suffers. 

FOIA requests are formal requests made to government institutions, including public universities, to release records to the populace. Under the FOIA, there are several exemptions agencies that can employ to deny such requests, including the protection of personal privacy, law enforcement and national security.

According to a recent report detailing the illegal withholding of information by Illinois institutions, however, the University itself has incorrectly cited exemptions to deny FOIA requests more often than not — a shocking 63% of the time.

If a public body of such low stakes (let’s be real, what kind of information could the University actually have that would impact anyone outside of the campus community?) denies FOIA requests in such a flagrantly unlawful manner, we can only imagine the information we aren’t getting from Springfield, and more nationally, Washington. 

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Let’s call a spade a spade here: This is censorship. 

There is no way around this word; that’s what this is. To make matters worse, denying FOIA requests is a perfectly legal form of censorship under the right conditions. There are nine different reasons an agency can deny a FOIA. Nine. Almost two hands full of fingers, and all of them broad-sweeping and vaguely outlined. 

National security? Who determines what is a threat to national security? The people denying the FOIA in the first place. Personal privacy? Yep, also defined by the people in charge of denying these requests.

We understand there might be some scenarios in which people are not entitled to all the information, or that they just don’t need it. Okay, understood. But to have nine huge categories for denying information to the public is just unreasonable.

If the American people cannot access information about what its own government is doing, something has gone horribly wrong. The Founders did not intend for this country to be governed by secrets and half-truths. Rather, they desired a government for the people, by the people.

How can the people govern themselves when they don’t even know what’s going on?