Monday, April 26, 2004

How Far Does The Freedom Of Information Act Currently Go?

I found this piece in The Hill to be an interesting perspective in regards to the freedom of information.
Under the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Congress also left a hefty chunk of the government off-limits — yet another reason why the sun doesn’t shine on much of what goes on. The lawmakers exempted the White House staff and “others whose sole function is to advise and assist the president,” the federal courts and themselves.

But the Pentagon didn’t get a blanket pass. The brass can withhold records only when, if disclosed, they “reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security.” That exemption has been widely seen as covering military plans, weaponry and certain scientific and technical data.


In an hour-long talk before several hundred publishers and editors last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said that while “government information ultimately belongs to the people … we have been moving in a different direction. The period after Sept. 11 saw the single biggest rollback of FOIA ever.”

His companion on the dais, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), used the session to defend the USA Patriot Act. The Judiciary Committee chairman wants the law to be extended and broadened. But Leahy, the panel’s ranking member, charged the Bush administration with hiding behind the statute to thumb its nose at demands for more openness, not only from the public but also from lawmakers.

In serving here over a span of six presidencies, Leahy charged, “I’ve never seen such a lack of cooperation.”

“In a period when there is so much to be accountable for,” the senator added, “it is the things we don’t want you to know about that you need FOIA for.”