The Chronicle’s View: Don’t take away our freedom of access

Freedom of the press exists so that independent entities can investigate the workings of government and make their findings known to the masses.

The government represents the people and spends the people’s money. Therefore the people have a right to monitor who that money is given to and how that money is used.

Senate Bill 179, which is under review by the state Legislature, is currently threatening this basic and fundamental right.

SB 179 would allow researchers who receive state funding to withhold their records from the public if they so choose.

Right now, the Government Record Access and Management Act allows any individual any records from any government institution or institution receiving government money.

SB 179 would allow researchers to ignore the GRAMA requests they receive. The state claims researchers are scared to receive government grants because competitors could GRAMA their research to steal ideas.

Also, individuals like U student Jeremy Beckham can access files to publicize what he considers maltreatment of animals.

The U needs to continue attracting great researchers. If the researchers are scared of who will GRAMA them, the state believes the solution is to take away that threat.

Good idea for researchers, bad idea for anyone concerned with how tax money is spent.

In the past, government has funded some pretty shady research. According to historian David Farber: “The CIA, in its secret project MK-ULTRA, surreptitiously dosed people with LSD and then watched them to see what happened” (The Age of Great Dreams, Hill and Wang, 1994).

Researchers at the U cure cancer, help the blind see, the lame walk and perform life-saving surgeries.

But still, that money belongs to the public, and the public has a right to see how it’s spent.

Jeremy Beckham and his Utah Primate Freedom Project may be a nuisance, but he’s not a threat warranting the loss of these public rights.

Most Americans disagree that the tragedies of Sept. 11 warrant the loss of freedoms that were enacted by the USA Patriot Act. How does one animal-loving student warrant the loss of the public’s access to information?

It is understandable that researchers fear competitors stealing ideas through GRAMA, but there must be a better way to protect them. Target and punish the thieves, not the public who is paying for the research.

The public has every reason to trust U researchers, but we also have the right to double check, just in case.