Key Principles of Government Information

Access to government information is a public right that must not be restricted by administrative barriers, geography, ability to pay, or format.

An informed citizenry is a prerequisite to maintaining the social contract between the established government and those governed by it. The people who constitute nations, states, or localities require unimpeded access to information to continually assess and evaluate their governments. Government must accept the responsibility to provide to its citizens unrestricted access to public information on government activities. This responsibility includes providing information regardless of geographic location or mobility of those who require it. Public information must be made available to the public without impediment through deliberate policies, charging fees which intentionally or unintentionally limit access by those unable to pay, or by limiting access through the use of format(s) which are not equally accessible to all citizens.

The government has a responsibility to collect, maintain, and disseminate information to the public.

The free flow of information between the government and the public that it serves is essential to maintaining an informed citizenry. The public's right to know about government operations and functions is essential in holding government accountable to its citizenry. To facilitate accountability, it is the government's responsibility to collect and maintain all information on its policies, program, debates, deliberations, and legislative, judicial, or executive activities, limit classification, regularly review for declassification, and disseminate unclassified information to the public.

Government information regardless of form or format should be disseminated in a manner that promotes its usefulness to the public.

Because many different social and commercial decisions depend on information generated by governments, it is vital that governments issue information in formats that promote access to and enhancement of the usefulness of government information. Public access to government information must not be thwarted by costs, use of proprietary software, nor by special knowledge required to use the media in which government information is maintained. In managing information resources, government must always consider the dual responsibility of maintaining public information in formats that are useful both to government agencies and to the public. Furthermore, information collected and/or maintained by or for the government must be consistent in content so as to facilitate geographic and/or chronological extrapolations, and be in formats that make it easily accessible to the public.

Depository library programs must be preserved to provide equitable, no-fee access to government information for the public.

Depository library programs are effective means for providing wide dispersal of and no fee public access to government information. As joint ventures between government and libraries, depository library programs are based on the principle that government information is a public resource that must be freely available to the people regardless of their location. The imposition of fees by libraries or by government to access government information would undermine the basic principle of free access to this rich public resource. Furthermore, use fees would deny access to government information by those unable to pay the fees. This would foster the creation of an information poor and an information elite. The introduction of such a convention should be abhorrent to governments dedicated to the principle of equal opportunity.

The cost of collecting, collating, storing, disseminating, and providing for permanent public access to government information should be supported by appropriation of public funds.

The collection, collation, storage, dissemination, and provision for permanent public access of public information are integral responsibilities of government. Government must allocate adequate financial resources from publicly appropriated funds to meet these responsibilities. The government cannot abrogate this obligation to ensure that government information is freely and equitably available to the public.

The role of private publishers should complement government responsibilities in the collection, storage, and dissemination of public information. Private sector involvement does not relieve the government of its information responsibilities.

Access to government information is essential to the maintenance of a responsible government, the health and well-being of society, and the continued economic growth and development of the nation. The obligation to guarantee full public access to valuable government information resources rests with the government. While the participation of the private sector in the collection, storage, and dissemination of government information is significant, this involvement does not relieve the government of its fundamental information responsibilities. Government must guarantee widespread, no-fee, and equitable access to public information, regardless of whether the information is produced and disseminated by the government or through the services of the private sector. In its contracts with the private sector, government must carefully assess whether factors such as corporate stability, continuity of service, proprietary control, or fees required to assure profitability will impede public access to the product.

Government information policy must ensure the integrity of public information.

Just as the government has a responsibility to collect and disseminate information to the public, the government must also guarantee that information collected by the government is presented to the public in its entirety, without editing or omissions that may change content or interpretation.

It is essential to safeguard the right of the government information user to privacy and confidentiality.

It is essential to protect the individual's right to privacy, therefore confidentiality must be maintained in all transactions wherein individuals access government information, whether through libraries, government agencies, or private vendors. Any mechanism that might identify users must be prohibited, except in instances where proper legal procedures are employed.

Government has an obligation to preserve public information from all eras of the country's history, regardless of form or format.

Most information generated by government serves as the official public record of government. Government, as an agent of the people, has the responsibility to preserve public information, regardless of format, as official record.

Government has a responsibility to provide a comprehensive cumulative catalog of government information regardless of form or format.

Government information is a public resource collected at public expense. A comprehensive catalog describing all government information and information services, regardless of their format, is necessary to ensure that the public has knowledge of and access to this resource. The catalog must provide sufficient information to identify and access government information.

Copyright or copyright-like restrictions should not be applied to government information.

Copyright or copyright-like restrictions of government information would impede public access to that information. The underlying intent of copyright is to protect the intellectual property rights of private authors. However, property rights of government information reside with the people; therefore, copyright should not apply to information produced by government.