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This March, support freedom of information

FreedomofInformationWhen: March 16

: The recent WikiLeaks controversy sparked an intense debate about the boundaries of the press and public access to information. Although people are split on this particular issue, the U.S. made its stance clear with the 1966 Freedom of Information Act. Whether it’s for research or a desire to hold the government accountable, the act has adapted over time to a changing world as new channels of information were created. On March 18, celebrate Freedom of Information Day and focus on the issues surrounding the FOIA and the First Amendment.

Background: The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and in 1999 was given its own day of recognition by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Freedom Forum. The chosen day honors the birthday of President James Madison, who is often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison not only was the chief author of the Bill of Rights, but he placed a high value on freedom of information and individual rights.

Story Pitch: Because Freedom of Information Day is sponsored by the ALA, it provides a great opportunity for all libraries and their staff to focus on how libraries serve a community’s needs. Libraries often serve as public centers for Internet access, and can train the public on how to request records via the FOIA on the Internet and through traditional written requests. Organizations that serve as government watchdogs will want to highlight the necessity of the FOIA in protecting the First Amendment and instances in which it has served the public good. It will also be an important day to highlight challenges to freedom of information in the U.S. and around the world. Groups that work to promote democracy abroad can take the recent incidences in Egypt, where the Internet was cut off, as a strong example of how access to information is an important part of a free society.

Story Hook: At the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama issued a memorandum for the Open Government Directive that sought to establish a participatory and transparent government. How has this directive been carried out and how has its success been rated? Keep the following in mind when making your pitch:

  • How is the FOIA generally used by citizens?
  • What information is off-limits to a FOIA request and why?
  • How does FOIA relate to the First Amendment and other constitutional issues?
  • How is freedom of information handled in other nations, and what are the consequences of restricted access?

Tips: Provide contact information for someone who has made use of the FOIA for either personal or professional reasons, such as a journalist.


American Library Association
(800) 545-2433

The Freedom Forum
(202) 292-6100

Freedom of Information Act at the U.S. Department of Justice
(202) 514-2000

Whitehouse Website on the Open Government Directive
(202) 456-1414

–Researched, compiled & written by Nicholas Testa
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