WASHINGTON, DC—Calling the unregulated flow of information "the single greatest threat to the emotional comfort and well-being of the American people," Congress passed the long-discussed Freedom From Information Act Monday.
The legislation—a response to widespread public demand to know less about the realities of the world around it—guarantees citizens protection from unpleasant information and imposes tough new restrictions on facts that federal authorities deem potentially damaging to the public's overall peace of mind.
"What good does it do people to know that, for example, migratory killer bees are due to arrive in Los Angeles this spring?" said Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN), a key proponent of the bill. "I don't want to know that a majority of adult males have had more than one homosexual experience, do you? I also have no interest in knowing how widespread mercury poisoning is; the statistics on gun ownership among inner-city youths under the age of 10; and the number of Kazakhstani nuclear warheads currently unaccounted for. Each day, more and more disturbing information encroaches upon the comfortable, illusory worldviews our country's middle- and upper-middle class citizens have constructed for themselves. It is up to this nation's elected officials to stem the tide."
Passage of the new legislative package is being greeted with widespread approval.
"With all the problems and stress of modern life already taxing people's emotional resources to the limit, the last thing we need is a lot of depressing information dragging everybody down even more," said Greg Hill, an Edina, MN, lawyer and longtime advocate of federally imposed information limits. "People need to be shielded from the realities of the horrible world if they're to have any chance of getting through life in a pleasant manner."
Fellow anti-information crusader and Deerfield, IL, homemaker Jane Gernbaum agreed. "I don't want to specifically mention some of the offensive facts I've accidentally exposed myself to, but believe me, they were pretty harsh," she said from her upscale suburban home. "It's about time the government put a stop to them."
Much of the impetus for the broad-based information reductions came from parents' groups, which have long been concerned about the harmful effects facts may have on children.
"Kids have curious minds and are eager to learn," said Francine Walters of the What About The Children? Foundation. "This makes them susceptible to harmful information-exposure. It's about time Congress finally did something to protect them."
Last month, the calls for information safeguards for children grew louder, due largely to the highly publicized case of El Paso, TX, sixth-grader Jeff Paulsen, who accessed information about the neighboring border city of Juarez, Mexico, from a Harper's magazine in his school library. According to attorneys for the Paulsen family, which owns controlling stock in several textile factories in Juarez, the boy had previously believed the city to be a thriving border town that enjoyed positive economic relations with the U.S. Severely traumatized after discovering that Juarez is actually a deathscape of unimaginable poverty, with one of the highest murder rates in the world, Paulsen became sullen and withdrawn.
"He kept saying, 'What's the point of going to soccer practice when all those Mexican boys and girls are dying?'" said his mother, Carole Paulsen. "The entire season was a complete wash. He may not even make the team next year."
Children are not the only ones in need of protection: According to an ABC News poll conducted last week, three in five U.S. adults claim to have a "strong personal fear" of information.
Among the facts cited as "too scary to think about": the number of microscopic creatures living in the average person's hair; the likelihood of a future outbreak of a worldwide "superflu" pandemic; and the percentage of U.S. families in which father-daughter incest is never reported to authorities, continuing year after year in secrecy.
Ironically, while access to information about such subjects will be heavily restricted by the federal government, polls indicate that Americans are most afraid of information regarding the federal government itself.
"I was so content in my belief that President Carter screwed up the hostage-rescue attempt, and that Reagan came in to free the hostages his first day in office," said Frank Sims, junior partner in a Roanoke, VA, consulting firm and a racquetball enthusiast. "It wasn't until 1992 that I learned that the Carter attempt was actually sabotaged by the same shadow-government operatives that backed Reagan's election and illegal arms-for-hostages trades. I can't tell you how much that bummed me out."
Under the new act, Americans will be protected from information about the Iran hostage crisis, as well as all other government blunders and/or questionable activities, including the U.S. Army's decades-long Tuskegee syphilis experiments on black veterans; the number of times NORAD has been at DefCon 1 due to human or computer error; and the government's longtime support of Indonesian president Suharto, a dictator responsible for one million deaths in East Timor.