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September 28 Is International Right To Know Day: Penn Law Faculty Study Transparency In Government

September 25, 2009

The seventh annual International Right to Know Day will be commemorated worldwide and celebrated with an awards ceremony in Bulgaria on Sept. 28. 

The annual promotion of open, transparent government and individuals’ right of access to information grew out of a meeting of freedom of information advocates who gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Sept. 28, 2002.
Three members of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Law School have focused much of their recent scholarship on this issue:
In a just-published paper in the journal Governance and in a recent op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cary Coglianeseargues that President Obama’s rhetoric on transparency has raised unrealistic expectations.
“As the chairman of an independent presidential transition task force that issued more than 25 recommendations to improve governmental transparency last summer, I share Americans' ideals of open government,” he writes. “But too much fishbowl-style transparency can dampen internal deliberations and official self-criticism…. Good government actually requires certain limits on transparency.”
Coglianese, a political scientist, is a deputy dean for academic affairs and the Edward B. Shils Professor at Penn Law, and he is director of Penn’s Program on Regulation
In papers published by the law reviews at the University of Pennsylvania and Lewis and Clark, Seth Kreimerpoints out that “the body of the Constitution provides no right to public information. What the Constitutional text omits, the last generation has embedded as a part of modern constitutional practice in the Freedom of Information Act.” Kreimer analyzes and applauds FOIA’s effectiveness at checking the functions of other institutions, even when “the tripartite constitutional structure which is said to guard against executive usurpation remained largely quiescent.”
Kreimer is the Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor at Penn Law and is chair of the Legal Committee in the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In an Election Law Journal review of the book Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency, Michael A. Fitts points to the important role that transparency – or its absence – plays in the failure of regulatory systems to avoid crises such as the current economic recession.    “Blunt instruments such as the Freedom of Information Act allow private actors to force certain types of disclosure, but do not pretend to prioritize the types of information or organize its dissemination,” Fitts writes. “Mere availability of information does not mean consumers will use it effectively.”
Fitts is dean and the Bernard G. Segal Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.