Freedom of Information Returns

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

While alot of the focus of the media has been about the Executive Orders President Obama signed today about Presidential Records and Ethics, not much attention has been paid to the fact that he also reversed the restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) instituted by former Attorney General Ashcroft in 2001.

You can find the memo from Obama here (pdf), but I’ll copy the whole thing below the fold.  

January 21, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the Federal Register. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIA reports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

This memorandum does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

Emphasis mine

5 comments

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    • kj on January 22, 2009 at 2:59 am

    folks in missouri felt real bad about fostering old John off on the rest of ya’ll.  happy to hear the burkas are coming off the statues and, oh yeah, FOIA.   yeah.  

  1. spells it out.

    It may not be the type of thing that Mr. Bush wants to hear, however. Experts said Mr. Obama’s moves would have the practical effect of allowing reporters and historians to obtain access to records from the Bush administration that might otherwise have been kept under wraps.

    Even Rush gets it.

    LIMBAUGH: What I’m afraid of is that what Obama did with this executive order is actually make it easier for the media to go get Bush documents. Because you know Pelosi and some of the guys over in congress are talking about war crimes trials and charges and so forth. […]

    What I’m afraid of is what Obama’s done here is made the gathering of the information for this kind of stuff- This is not American. This is not America. This is not what America does. We don’t- This is Banana Republic kind of stuff.

    Well, except for those last few sentences. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing a democracy does.

  2. to Nancy Kricorian, Medea Benjamin and Midge Potts, the three CodePink women who were (along with 20 other people from different organizations) labelled as “terrorists” and targeted for unnecessary surveillance by the Maryland police; and who currently are pursuing a lawsuit against the entities responsible.

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