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What Is Sunshine Week and Why Does It Matter to You?

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Although Sunshine Week sounds like something that Disney Princesses might celebrate, it is actually a significant event that affects almost everyone in the United States. 

 

(updated from an earlier post)

 

Sunshine Week began as Sunshine Sunday in 2002. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched the initiative to counter the creation of various exemptions on the state public records law.  The first Sunshine Sunday (and consecutive Sunshine days) were successful in building awareness about and combating hundreds of exemptions to freedom of information and public access laws.  Several states followed suit, and the following June, the American Society of News Editors hosted the Freedom of Information Summit, where Sunshine Week was created. It was officially launched in 2005, and celebrated in March of every year thereafter.  In 2011, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press became national co-coordinators along with the ASNE.

 

In essence, the mission of Sunshine Week is to highlight the people's right to open government, knowledge, and information– a right that has expanded over the past half century, along with the amount of information collected by the government.   This right was established, in keeping with the "spirit of transparency" in the US Constitution, in the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which gave citizens access to federal agency records and information.  Subsequently, nearly every state passed similar laws, known as Open Government, Open Records, and Sunshine Laws (check out this great interactive map of State FOIA laws by PBS NOW).    The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act followed, giving people wider access to information about lobbying activity and funding for elected officials.    And in 2009 President Obama became the first president to embrace transparency as a priority within his administration with the Open Government Initiative, through which dozens of executive actions were launched to make government information and data more accessible to the public online such as Data.gov, the Open Government Dashboard, and USAspending.gov.

 

Because the internet has become the primary tool used by the public to access information, laws that protect the free flow of information on the internet are also critical to preserving an individual's rights under FOIA and related laws.   Among the most cited laws that regulate the use of information and content on the internet is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) especially the Safe Harbor provisions that "were designed to prevent the DMCA in general from strangulating the Internet in its infancy" by allowing to search engines such as Google and other internet resources to index and present information.

 

While the public's right to information has grown, it has faced– and continues to face– many challenges along the way.  The high-profile 2011-12 battles over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) pitted labor groups and the entertainment industry against search engine and Internet Freedom groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the bills were ultimately defeated.    Right now, public interest groups are demanding that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reverse its policy of redacting sections of federal documents before giving them over to journalists and other citizens.   Events like Internet Freedom Day  and Sunshine Week are opportunities to discuss such challenges to the public's right to information in general and promote greater transparency and wider access to government information specifically.

 

Over one hundred organizations are taking part in this year's Sunshine Week, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Bloomberg News, and the U.S. Department of Justice.  Across the United States dozens of events are being held to inform, engage, and empower individuals and groups about open government and the right to access information.

 

Check out our gallery below to learn more about Open Government, FOIA, and the groups that are working to preserve and expand the public's right to information.

 

What You Can Do

 

Attend a Sunshine Week event.  Find them here.

 

Follow #SunshineWeek on Twitter to get news, events, and facts about the transparency of government information.

 

Check out our Media Gallery below to learn more about your right to information from the people and organizations who are fighting to preserve it.