We Need More Access to Bureaucrats’ Emails, Not Less


I’ve written more than 100 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the past few years, as well as a newsletter on FOIA policy, so it caused me great pain to read the headline over at Vox on Tuesday: “Against Transparency: Government officials’ email should be private, just like their phone calls.”

Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes that, in an age of casual email, the problem with making government officials’ emails subject to public records by default “is that in addition to serving as a deterrent to misconduct, it serves as a deterrent to frankness and honesty.”

The solution, Yglesias says, is to make emails off-limits to public record searches, much like phone calls.

“Government secrecy can be, and in some ways is, out of control,” he writes. “But a private conversation to facilitate a frank exchange of ideas is not the same as a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia. We need to let public officials talk to each other—and to their professional contacts outside the government—in ways that are both honest and technologically modern.”

Good point! If only someone in Congress had thought of it when they were crafting the Freedom of Information Act.

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