"Information Access and Protection of Privacy: Cornerstones of the Democratic Administrative State”
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The protection of privacy has received significant attention recently, particularly the threats posed to privacy by new technologies for mass data collection as well as post-911 security measures. Much less attention has been paid to the flip side of the privacy coin – access to information. Yet access to information in the public sector is critical to government transparency and accountability; both are components of a well functioning administrative state. Surprising little has been written in the public administration literature on either of access to information or protection of privacy, despite the fact they are cornerstones of a modern democracy. Moreover, administrative states worldwide have had to develop access and privacy administrative structures to comply with new legislative standards, with varying degrees of success. This paper seeks to address this gap in the public administration literature. It begins by examining assumptions concerning such concepts as privacy, accountability, democracy. It considers competing perspectives of the proper balance between access and privacy and argues that privileging one conception over the other speaks to underlying values that may or may not be shared. Without “unpacking” assumptions and the ideological baggage that goes with them, decision makers are in danger of pursuing flawed courses of action that could result in undermining democratic institutions.