I am not altogether sure what to make of this one. News is traveling through the blogsphere that the official White House web page has disabled certain terms in its search engine, among them “Iraq,” and otherwise made it more difficult for citizens to get information about the administration’s previous positions and policies. The left wing interpretation is that the Bush folks want to make it harder for us to see exactly what he said about the justification for our entry into Iraq and thus to be able to map shifts in his rhetoric and position. I am sure the right has its own explanations for these changes in the search protocols on an important government site.
I am less interested ultimately about which theory is right than I am about what this debate says about our expectations concerning access to governmental information in the digital age. Interesingly, it was Republican Newt Gingrich, in pushing so hard for Thomas, the House of Representative’s website, that raised expectations about public access to governmental information on the Internet. How far does those expectations extend? Is it enough to put the documents on the web or do we expect them to develop and maintain powerful search engines which make them easy to find?