LA Times: Obama’s New FOIA Rules Are “Deeply Undemocratic”
Last week I wrote about new rules being pushed for by the Obama administration which would allow the federal government to lie about the existence of records requested through FOIA requests. The Washington Examiner is calling it a “license to lie,” and the LA Times is calling the move “deeply undemocratic.”
At present, if the government doesn’t want to admit the existence of a document it believes to be exempt from FOIA, it may advise the person making the request that it can neither confirm nor deny the document’s existence. Under the proposed regulation, an agency that withholds a document “will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist.”
This policy is outrageous. It provides a license for the government to lie to its own people and makes a mockery of FOIA. It also would mislead citizens who might file an appeal if they knew there was a possibility that the document they sought was in the possession of a government agency. Such an appeal would allow a court to determine whether the requested document was covered by an exemption in FOIA. …
FOIA doesn’t provide a blanket right to public access to government documents. It’s reasonable to have exceptions for certain classified national security or foreign policy documents if their release would damage American interests. The government should be free to withhold those documents, subject to review by the courts, but it would be unacceptable — and deeply undemocratic — to pretend they don’t exist. The Justice Department should discard the rule and start over. And Obama should reread his pronouncements about transparent government.
As someone who has been requesting public records from the government for years – ten years as a private investigator overlapping with eight years as a blogger – I can tell you that it’s extremely difficult to get records as is. Requests can take months, even years, to be fulfilled, and making the requests is like fishing with a blindfold on. If you make your request too broad the government will charge you exorbitant fees for copies and search times to the point where the request is no longer affordable. If you make your request too narrow it will exclude what you’re looking for forcing you to start the process all over again.
And all along bureaucrats, under the guise of merely being sticklers for the law, will do their best to confound your efforts.
Add to this allowing the federal government to lie about the existence of records, to carry on as though no records existed at all, is unconscionable.Tags: Barack Obama, department of justice, eric holder, foia, open records, transparency