Information Quality Act
Law and culture in the United States endorse transparency in public institutions, including public access to government information. Data generated, collected and disseminated by the public sector facilitate activities by individuals and organizations that range from the mundane to the critical. Access to information allows third parties to hold elected representatives and government agencies accountable for their actions, and is thus essential to effective democracy.
A little-known federal law passed without debate threatens public access to scientific information. The Information Quality Act (IQA), also known as the Data Quality Act, puts in place a process for challenging information disseminated by the government which is at best unnecessary and at worst a substantial threat to public health and safety, and environmental quality.
On its surface, IQA sounds constructive—clearly, it is important that data disseminated by the government be of high quality. On closer examination, however, IQA has the potential to significantly retard, dilute or censor information the public needs, such as alerts about dangerous chemical or biological hazards, warnings about unsafe drugs or foods, or information about the effects of pollution on wildlife or sensitive habitats. Though its focus is on disseminated information, the law also has the potential to undermine regulatory action: piecemeal challenges to the quality of individual studies can dismantle the body of evidence that an agency reviews in considering appropriate action to prevent or reverse threats to health.