When we don’t know what public officials are up to, it can undermine our confidence in fair government, and block the public from engaging in a meaningful or informed debate. Too often, surveillance is conducted in secret and inequality thrives in the shadows.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a crucial tool for ordinary people to provide checks and balances on elected officials; filing requests and obtaining information is just a first step in keeping public officials transparent and accountable. The ACLU of Massachusetts has long used FOIA to demand transparency. In 2018, we submitted a records request to obtain more information about facial surveillance technologies deployed at airports and other facilities.
For decades, Massachusetts had one of the worst public records laws in the country. Together with our allies, we fought to change Massachusetts’ public records law and pass reforms to increase access to public information. In 2016, Governor Baker signed into law a sweeping bill that, among other improvements, makes government agencies pay when they illegally deny access to information that rightfully belongs to the public.
The ACLU of Massachusetts is also fighting for open government in the courts. In 2017, we challenged excessive government secrecy surrounding Massachusetts prosecutors’ use of surveillance letters called “administrative subpoenas.” In Massachusetts, this substantial law enforcement surveillance power has for years been exercised almost entirely in the dark.