Obama’s Justice Department has proposed a regulatory change that would weaken the Freedom of Information Act. Under the new rules, the government could falsely respond to those who file FOIA requests that a document does not exist if it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation, concerns a terrorist organization, or a counterintelligence operation involving a foreign nation.
The president who committed himself to “an unprecedented level of openness in government” has followed the example of his predecessor by invoking the “state secrets” privilege to derail litigation about government misdeeds in the war on terror. He has refused to release the administration’s secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, which two senators have described as alarming. He has blocked the dissemination of photographs documenting the abuse of prisoners by U.S. service members. And now his Justice Department has proposed to allow government agencies to lie about the existence of documents being sought under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
…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.