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What is the right to know, and why should you care?

by Montana Transparency Project
| April 17, 2024 12:00 AM

Did you know that you have a constitutional right to know?

The right to know appears alongside your right to freedom of speech, right to bear arms and right of suffrage in the Montana Constitution, and it is every bit as important. Under the right to know, you have a right to request public information from your state and local governments.

When Montanans exercise their right to know by submitting public information requests, it increases government transparency, improves government officials’ responsiveness to citizens, and boosts citizens’ confidence and satisfaction in their government. Moreover, direct participation in democracy is a part of our heritage: from ballot initiatives, to our citizen legislature, to the right to know, Montanans are active participants in government.

It’s easy to wax poetic about government transparency and creating a government of the people, by the people, for the people. But the right to know doesn’t just exist on paper, and it isn’t just something for those who care about politics or the law.

The right to know is for sportsmen to inquire about why access was denied to a stream.

The right to know is for parents to learn about school board decisions that affect their student’s education.

The right to know is for ranchers to ask about new state regulations that change how they do business. 

The right to know is for anyone, including you, to take action and to help create better government in Montana.

Unfortunately, exercising this right can be complicated and confusing.  Murky questions about how to write and submit requests dissuade many from even attempting to make an information request in the first place. The Montana Transparency Project is here to provide answers.

So, who are we? We are five young Montanans who love our state constitution and want to protect its promises — including the right to know — for our generation and for future generations. Each of us has worked in the right to know space over the years, and we are united in the common goal of preserving and promoting this invaluable privilege that so strongly encourages government transparency. We founded the nonpartisan Montana Transparency Project to assist Montanans with the information request process, to spread awareness about the right to know, and to otherwise ensure that this constitutional provision remains accessible to all.

Every month we’ll be writing here about your right to know, why it matters, and how you can get involved yourself. If you have questions or suggestions for us, let us know at info@montanatransparencyproject.org. We would love to hear from you.

We believe that empowering Montanans to be civically engaged through information requests will help create a more responsive and open government that will better serve the needs of our state. So, what do you want to know?

Visit our website at montanatransparencyproject.org. If you have questions, comments, column topics you’d like us to address, or if you want to submit your own information request, contact us at info@montanatransparencyproject.org and we would be happy to help.