This morning at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego, CA, the ALA Council unanimously passed a resolution on access to government information, the current classification system, whistleblowing, and WikiLeaks. The resolution, reprinted below, was a collaborative effort of the Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Committee on Legislation.
Resolution on Access to and Classification of Government Information
WHEREAS, public access to information by and about the government is a basic tenet of a democratic society and crucial to the public’s ability to hold the government accountable for its actions; and
WHEREAS, libraries are essential to the free flow of ideas and to ensuring the public’s right to know; and
WHEREAS, a democratic society needs to balance the fundamental right to access government information with the necessity to withhold certain information essential to national security; and
WHEREAS, “the guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic,” (Justice Hugo Black, New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)); and
WHEREAS, current and former government officials estimate that 50% to 90% of classified information is either overclassified or should not have been classified at all, making the administration of classified information ineffective and preventing the protection of real secrets (Statement of Thomas Blanton, Director, National Security Archive, George Washington University, to the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, Thursday, December 16, 2010); and
WHEREAS, President Barack Obama has pursued systemic reform and greater openness and transparency by ordering the declassification of hundreds of millions of records, prescribing a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information, and directing government agencies to perform a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review “to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified (Executive Order 13526 on Classified National Security Information (Dec. 29, 2009)); and
WHEREAS, the American Library Association (ALA) has commended President Barack Obama for issuing, on his first day in office, the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government; and
WHEREAS, the ALA continues to support whistleblowers in reporting abuse, fraud, and waste in government activities (ALA 2007-08 CD#20.5 and ALA 2003-2004 CD 20.7) and opposes the misuse of governmental power to intimidate, suppress, coerce, or compel speech (Policy 53.4, “Policy on Governmental Intimidation;” Policy 53.6, “Loyalty Oaths”); and
WHEREAS, WikiLeaks’ ongoing disclosure of large numbers of classified and unclassified United States government documents has renewed debate about access to, and classification of government information; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the American Library Association (ALA):
1. Commends President Barack Obama for establishing the National Declassification Agency and issuing Executive Order 13526 on Classified National Security Information and supports and encourages expanded initiatives to reform the U.S. classification system;
2. Urges Congress to pass legislation that expands protections for whistleblowers in the Federal government, such as the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2010;
3. Urges the U.S. President, Congress, the federal courts, and executive and legislative agencies to defend the inalienable right of the press and citizens to disseminate information to the public about national security issues and to refrain from initiatives that impair these rights;
4. Affirms the principle that government information made public within the boundaries of U.S. law should be available through libraries and the press without restriction.