With the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder continually under fire these days, it was something of a surprise, even to Capitol Hill insiders, that the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, is now in the crosshairs, and that new rules are being advanced not only to deny the public access to documents, but to lie outright, telling requesters that either the documents never existed or don’t exist now. Washington Times reporter Luke Rosiak quoted portions of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) letter to the Justice Department lambasting its 180-degree turn: “These changes [to FOIA] … are contrary to law and exceed the authority of the agency.” EPIC’s letter called the move a “retreat from current practice.”
“The administration’s proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act guidelines would allow the Department of Justice to deny the existence of documents and [even] prevent judicial oversight,” wrote Seth Mendel in Commentary Magazine. He noted that even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agreed that Obama was “authorizing agencies to lie.”
The changes were announced October 30 and promptly picked up by most major news outlets. Legal Counsel for the Sunlight Foundation, John Mr. Wonderlich, wrote a strongly worded letter to the Department decrying the blatant retreat from open-government policies.
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Beverly K. Eakman (photo)