The Public Interest

The costs of free information

Richard A. Guida

Fall 1989

THE FREEDOM of Information Act (FOIA) is revered by some, defamed by others, and unknown to most. It strives to make government more open and accountable, a goal that Americans embrace as essential to participatory democracy. The FOIA finds its staunchest supporters among university researchers, historians, and journalists. Newspaper articles prominently announce the source of information obtained under the FOIA, and editorial scorn routinely greets the failure of federal agencies to respond promptly and fully to FOIA requests.  Those whom the FOIA benefits—either intellectually or financially-are quick to sing its praises. But the statute has had a number of unintended and perverse effects. Though Congress has taken some steps to address these effects, more remains to be done.

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