Open Government Partnership 2013 in London

From NFOIC: COLUMBIA, Mo. — The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) is among open government groups that are urging the Obama White House to renounce and reform secret law practices that have enabled controversial and overreaching National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs.

In an October 21 letter sent to President Obama in advance of this week’s three-day international conference on governmental transparency in London, forty-six US-based open government groups, including NFOIC, urged the President to pledge to curb use of secret legal interpretations by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“While the government has an obligation to protect properly and appropriately classified information, democracy does not thrive when our national security programs and the intelligence community’s actions are shrouded in secrecy,” the open government groups said in the letter to Obama. “The public must, at the very least, have a shared understanding of the bounds and limits of the laws of our land and be able to have an informed debate about our policies.”

The letter's timing was prescient, but unscripted except in the sense that it was aimed at the London conference of the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) that the administration helped to spearhead, starting in 2011. But it also came at a time when the NSA and it activities have become a source of increasing global tensions and embarrassment. That is thanks in large part to classified documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden and demands for explanations, answers and apologies by German Chancellor German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others.

NFOIC Executive Director Ken Bunting, who was invited to the London conference but could not attend, said that given those developments there might have been a “a credibility payoff” had the administration made voluntary reforms regarding use of secret law part of its commitment for the London conference.

News coverage about the OGP conference follows: