Documents are the lifeblood of historians: they provide the bricks to build our understanding of the past. Making government records publicly available is an essential part of any democracy. However, the means by which researchers gain access to many documents, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is being systematically undermined. The government claims that it is costly to administer and limits the work of ministerial departments. The Freedom of Information Commission, appointed last year by the government to review the FOIA’s workings, recently rejected a proposal to charge for requests. Nevertheless, the implementation of the act leaves a lot to be desired.
The government has been making it increasingly difficult to access not only contemporary documents but also historical ones. At the beginning of this year, for example, only fifty-eight government documents, none of them controversial, were released under the twenty-year rule, compared to over five hundred last year. As citizens, we