- Grove City, Pennsylvania

March 3, 2012

Time's right to close gov't data loophole

New Castle News

— It's generally recognized that knowledge is power. That's why some knowledge deserves equal treatment.

Perhaps that assessment is most appropriate when it comes to information held by government.

Government data and the collection of information, after all, comes courtesy of tax dollars, so everyone should have equal access to its benefits.

But the reality is that those inside government - and those who make their livelihoods by knowing what government knows - are better positioned to obtain these details. That's just the way it is.

However, knowing something and using that knowledge for your personal benefit are two different matters. When people use government data that's not readily available to the public in order to obtain financial gain, that's unethical in our view.

Unethical, perhaps, but still legal. At least that's the situation right now.

But measures passed by the U.S. Senate and by the House of Representatives seek to minimize this problem. Whether a final version of the legislation - to be hammered out in a House-Senate conference committee - creates a truly level playing field remains uncertain.

Relatively quick action on the problem of insider trading with government information came following news reports last year that highlighted the issue.

Concerns were raised that knowledge of government activities and related information was being used by some officials to buy and sell stock for their benefit or the benefit of people close to them.

While insider trading with the use of corporate information long has been illegal, it isn't that way with government information. The just-passed measures are intended to address this problem.

But there are concerns the bill passed by the House would be less effective than the Senate version. Bowing to pressure from Wall Street lobbyists, top Republicans in the House removed rules that imposed restrictions on private individuals who had special access to government information.

This is a gap that would encourage all manner of abuses down the road. And it has drawn criticism from a variety of sources, including Senate Republicans.

We're glad that lawmakers finally are working to close a significant fairness loophole.

But they need to make every effort to close it completely.

Published Feb. 25, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.