Proposed FOIA Update: Government Should Be Allowed to Pretend Records Don't Exist


The Department of Justice prefers its transparency to be as opaque as possible. Mother Jones points to an exciting new opportunity for further reducing the power of the Freedom of Information Act:

Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what's known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

The new proposal—part of a lengthy rule revision by the Department of Justice—would direct government agencies to "respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

Adds Wired.com:

That said, judges aren't very tough on the government when it does lie in FOIA cases.

Consider that, two weeks ago, a federal judge decided not to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying videotapes of detainee interrogations that included the use of a torture technique known as waterboarding, ruling instead that the spy agency merely committed "transgressions" for its failure to abide by his court order in a FOIA case brought by the ACLU.

Punishing the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein of New York ruled, "would serve no beneficial purpose" because CIA officials responsible for producing the tapes might "not have been aware of the videotapes' existence before they were destroyed."

Organizations which unsurprisingly object to this plan include the American Civil Liberties Union, OpenTheGovernment.org, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Reason on FOIA and transparency issues.