Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
Jimmy Carter

The Bush administration has violated Americans' basic human rights by blocking access to information and creating more government secrets than at any other time in U.S. history, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.

Carter made the remarks at the start of a three-day conference in Atlanta aimed at helping other countries develop "access to information" laws, drawing participants from nearly 40 nations.

To applause, Carter said he looks forward to more freedom after a new U.S. administration takes office in January.

The Atlanta-based Carter Center has been working to help other countries with right-to-information laws since 1999, when it piloted a program in Jamaica. At that time only a handful of countries had such laws.

Today, nearly 70 nations have laws granting the public access to government information.

"Powerful leaders in order to stay in office deprive their citizens of a right to know," Carter said. "Access to information can change the landscape of an entire society."