March 16, 2014 | By Dave Maass

Sunshine Week: Championing Transparency to Protect Your Rights

Sunshine Week starts today.  What better way to kick it off than sharing this astute quote from phone phreak Phil Lapsley and attorney Michael Ravnitzky, who turned the Freedom of Information Act into a hacking tool?

Imagine.

Imagine a database.

A database of documents.

Every document the U.S. Government has ever created.

That database exists. It even has a name.

It’s called …

“Every document the U.S. Government has ever created and hasn’t gotten around to throwing out yet.”

You can query this database by using an obscure search engine called FOIA.

- “Rummaging in the Government’s Attic: Lessons Learned from More Than 1,000 Freedom of Information Act Requests.” (video)

At 2600 magazine’s HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference in 2008, Lapsley presented “A Hacker's View of the Freedom of Information Act,” which explained how he applied phreaking methods and sensibilities to obtain (and exploit) public records for his book, “Exploding the Phone.” The talk illuminates the power of FOIA as a resource for hacker-researchers and journalists—a line that has blurred substantially over the last year with reporters and digital security experts collaborating to interpret a massive amount of released and leaked electronic surveillance documents. 

FOIA isn’t just a research tool, but an important check on power in our democracy.  If you search through agency FOIA logs and lawsuits in federal court, you’ll see that it’s a lever used by advocate groups across the political spectrum, from anti-abortion activists to immigrant-rights watchdogs, from crawfish producers to the people who run the book store, audio tours and concession stands at Mount Rushmore. And, of course, digital civil liberties organizations like EFF.

Sunshine Week is an annual event for transparency champions to unite for the cause of freedom of information. EFF is proud to be a part of this nationwide effort to ensure accountability through openness.  

We will be publishing blog posts every day, explaining our transparency work and providing tips for keeping a close eye on the government. Follow our blog or social media feeds, or check back here for links throughout the week.  

You can also visit our transparency hub here: https://www.eff.org/issues/transparency

Sunshine Week posts:

All of EFF's Transparency Litigation in One, Shiny InFOIAgraphic

How EFF's FOIA Litigation Helped Expose the NSA’s Domestic Spying Program

Blast Sunshine From Your Social Media Profile With These Backgrounds and Banners

Former Church Committee Counsel and Staffers Call on Congress to Create Modern Day Church Committee

Los Angeles Cops Argue All Cars in LA Are Under Investigation

EFF Victories in Two FOIA Cases—Court Rules Government’s Arguments are “Clearly Inadequate” to Support Claims

Transparency Tip: How to Track Government Projects Like a Defense Contractor

Transparency Tip: Scouring Public Records with Scout

Bringing Transparency and Democracy to the US Trade Representative


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