Point, click, sunshine.
Access to the vast majoritiy of public information should be as simple as that.
Sometimes it is. Some enlightened counties in Ohio are placing much of the information they hold in the public trust where it can be easily accessed by someone using an Internet connection. Sometimes it's not even difficult, what with the amount of information already stored electronically. You create a door and open it.
An outfit called the Sunlight Foundation is one of the backers of legislation it hopes will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to require all public government-held information to be available online.
A worthy goal, of course, but one that faces the practical hurdle of getting reams and reams of older information transferred from musty paper to shiny bits and bytes. That takes manpower and money, as we see in our own Erie County Clerk of Courts office.
We are not going to tout online information as the be-all and end-all of open government. There's still something to be said for an official piece of paper in your possession. It's far more permanent than electronic information that can be reprogrammed while you're not looking, with whatever information it once held consigned to the cyberspace equivalent of George Orwell's "Memory Hole" from "1984."
It's a question of being able to get to that information, and getting that piece of paper is often too involved a process to make it really "free." But being able to call it up from anyplace you can log on to the Internet makes that information public and free in a very real and practical sense.
Online public information? It's the way of the future. It should be the way of the present. Let's get this done.