Journalists and politicians often disagree over whether the state of freedom of information is better or worse since the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. This study attempts to provide some historical context by comparing the state of access in 1953 as outlined in detail in The People’s Right to Know by Harold L. Cross, the first comprehensive review of case law and statutes in the United States regarding access to public records at local, state and federal agencies. Analysis indicates that the legal right to information, particularly for police records and federal documents, is better today than it was in 1953, but challenges persist regarding compliance, enforcement and the prevalence of exemptions. Recommendations are provided for the next fifty years, including renewal of Cross’ urging for a First Amendment right to know.
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