THE COMMISSION RECOMMENDS:
Require government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records, and make civic and social data available in standardized formats that support the productive public use of such data.
Public information belongs to the public. Governments at all levels should adopt a theme implicit in the remarks of many Commission witnesses: “Make information available; people will find ways to use it productively.”
Open Government Laws
In this digital age, governments should define public information as broadly as possible, with only very narrow, specific exemptions. Governments at all levels should ordinarily collect data electronically and in standardized formats. Respecting individual privacy and other legal requirements of confidentiality, governments should then place their public information online in standardized formats, optimized for search with appropriate tags. In short, information should be available in ways that people can remix, mashup, and circulate for private or public purposes. Achieving this level of openness is likely to entail major investments in the information infrastructure supporting government at the local and state levels. Major technology companies could make an enormous contribution to the public interest by volunteering expertise and facilities that could help accomplish this ambitious objective.
Federal, state, and local jurisdictions should clearly identify and train employees responsible for handling records requests. Laws should penalize government agencies and their employees who violate their own public information rules. Openness requirements should apply to all public bodies and government contractors. Finally, governments should provide for independent oversight of their transparency efforts.
Transparency in Government
The public’s business should be done in public. Open-meetings laws should require that all public agencies conduct their deliberations and take their actions openly. The public should be able to witness and participate in the process of governing. If possible, governments should allow citizens to participate in hearings or other fact-gathering processes electronically.
At every level, legislative bodies should operate with genuine transparency. Members of the public should be able to track and comment upon successive versions of proposed statutes and ordinances, whether federal, state, or local. Except in genuine emergencies, legislators should not vote on proposals that have not had public vetting with a meaningful opportunity for public comment.
Public trust in the judicial system likewise requires open courtrooms. In criminal and civil matters, any closing of proceedings or sealing of records should meet a high standard in terms of the public interests protected. Court proceedings, particularly at the appellate level, should be open to cameras.
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