The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), first signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson and since amended, allows for the full or partial disclosure of all legislative documents produced within the the United States. The FOIA is intended to promote transparency by the United States Government so that the average citizen can have access to the laws that govern his or her life.
Transparency is an integral part to democracy. Usually the more transparent the Government, the more democratic the nation is. Freedom of information also serves to promote the role of the citizenry in a democracy. The more information a citizen has, certainly provided by FOIA, the better a citizen can decide what legislative polices are right or wrong for the country.
Before 1966, Government documents could be sealed and not released to the public. The FOIA is intended to revisit the freedom of thoughts that the founders of the United States deemed so central to a properly working democracy.
The Freedom of Information Act has undergone a series of revisions over the course of time. As the country has moved forward, so have the problems facing the country. Sometimes the FOIA is not followed. In fact, if it were it could provide the impetus for a series of problems that can befall the country. Most of these cases revolve around the question of national defense and how much information the general public should be allowed to view.
In many cases current defense plans are not disclosed in full, even though contrary to the essence of the Freedom of Information Act, because if defense plans were disclosed in full it could put American lives in jeopardy. That, however, does not mean debating the scope of the FOIA is out of the question. Some legislators believe that it should cover everything as it is an inherent right of the people to know what their government is doing. The opposite side of the argument would bring the question of safety to the table.
Much of the intelligence community of the United States is outside the scope of the FOIA, as the intelligence community runs clandestine operations that, were they to become public knowledge, would jeopardize lives and the nature of being a secret mission. However, one such benefit of the Freedom of Information Act is that many topics not available to the public today will eventually become open to the public in the future.
Many items that the government currently wishes not to disclose can be considered time sensitive. For example, 50 years from now the clandestine operations being conducted by the intelligence community in Afghanistan and Iraq will most likely become public record, much like the operations during World War II are now public record.
Freedom of information is very important to a democracy as it creates a much better informed citizenry. The more aware the citizenry is of government practices, the better the Government as a whole can be tailored to fit the needs of an ever changing world. Moreover, it allows more people to take part in the decision making. This creates a higher level of democracy trying, in essence, to reach a more perfect union the framers so desperately sought.