How Orwellian of themPosted: October 25, 2011
Public access to government information is vital to a functioning democracy. That’s probably why the Justice Department is proposing this change to the Freedom of Information Act. They’re working on further disappearing people and information now. Is having a functioning democracy politically inconvenient or simply expedient in this age of terrorist games? This is one change that we should be fighting tooth and nail.
A proposed revision to Freedom of Information Act rules would allow federal agencies to lie to citizens and reporters seeking certain records, telling them the records don’t exist.
The Justice Department has proposed the change as part of a large revision of FOIA rules for federal agencies. Specifically, the rule would direct government agencies who are denying a request under an established FOIA exemption to “respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist,” rather than citing the relevant exemption.
The proposed rule has alarmed government transparency advocates across the political spectrum, who’ve called it “Orwellian” and say it will “twist” public access to government.
In a public comment regarding the rule change, the ACLU, along with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and OpenTheGovernment.org, said the move “will dramatically undermine government integrity by allowing a law designed to provide public access to government information to be twisted to permit federal law enforcement agencies to actively lie to the American people.”
Anne Weismann, the chief counsel of CREW, said the Justice Department has a legitimate purpose behind the rules: to protect sensitive information about ongoing investigations. However, she said lying about the records “is an overbroad and improper response.”
“The problem is, if you’re a FOIA requester and the agency says they don’t have the records, you have no reason to doubt that,” Weismann said.“But if they cite an exemption, you have the option to sue.”
I can think of a number of records pertaining to our current wars as well as a variety of domestic terrorism criminal suits that could conveniently be disappeared. Would this also extend to the request that got the FED to pony up its TARP details, or say, the request to see who visited the White House during the Health Care Reform debates like all those Big Pharma folks?
This is vital to a free and functioning press. I know we don’t have much of that left, but a few reporters still actually take their jobs as journalists seriously. This is also important for academics, lawyers, and a host of others who need the details to determine potential wrong doing or innocence. This certainly means the government would be able to interpret what it wants to give you under a FOIA request. This is a very bad thing.