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Freedom of Information Act

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This article is about the U.S. law.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the implementation of freedom of information freedom of information legislation in the United States. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966, (amended in 2002), and went into effect the following year. This act allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the U.S. Government.

Background Edit

With the perennial stress on both constitutional and inherent rights of American citizens and the added assertion of government subservience to the individual, some thought it was necessary for government information to be available to the public.

However, the sensitivity of some government information and private interests clash with this view. Therefore, Congress attempted to enact a Freedom of Information Act in 1966 that would effectively deal with requests for government records, consistent with the belief that the people have the “right to know” about them. The Privacy Act of 1974 additionally covered government documents charting individuals.

However, it is in the exemptions to solicitation of information under these acts that problems and discrepancies arise. The nine exemptions to the FOIA and the ten exemptions to the Privacy Act address issues of sensitivity and personal rights. Many citizens, over the course of the years, have felt cheated by these exemptions. They contend that persistent government action on many levels is geared toward exploiting these exception-clauses of the acts to withhold information which, in reality, does not uphold a national or constitutional right but personal or political biases.

The forms of cases against the government were many, and still continue. The major defendants in these cases have been the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Council (NSC), but the President has often been involved. The scopes of the acts are large, however, and encompass even ancillary roles in murder cases.

The Freedom of Information Act (and corollary legislation) presents the United States with what some see as a "slippery slope" of free information. How much information is the government required to reveal? Is there a point at which boundaries of public availability should not be crossed? Who determines and enforces those boundaries to the benefit or detriment of those seeking and withholding information?

Scope Edit

The act explicitly applies only to federal government agencies. These agencies are under several mandates to comply with public solicitation of information. Along with making public and accessible all bureaucratic and technical procedures for applying for documents from that agency, agencies are also subject to penalties for hindering the process of a petition for information. If “agency personnel acted arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to the withholding, [a] Special Counsel shall promptly initiate a proceeding to determine whether disciplinary action is warranted against the officer or employee who was primarily responsible for the withholding.” [1] In this way, there is recourse for one seeking information to go to a Federal court if suspicion of illegal tampering or delayed sending of records exists. However, there are nine exemptions, ranging from a withholding “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy” and “trade secrets” to “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” [1] Thus, in all cases, the President has unlimited power in declaring something off-limits or necessarily classified in the concern of national safety.

The Privacy ActEdit

The Privacy Act of 1974 is, summarily, a similar act regulating government control of documents which concern a citizen. It gives one “(1) the right to see records about [one]self, subject to the Privacy Act's exemptions, (2) the right to amend that record if it is inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely, or incomplete, and (3) the right to sue the government for violations of the statute including permitting others to see [one’s] records unless specifically permitted by the Act.”[2] In conjunction with the FOIA, the PA is used to further the rights of an individual gaining access to information held by the government. The Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy and federal district courts are the two channels of appeal available to seekers of information.[3]

Major cases Edit

Template:POV-section A major issue in released documentation is government redaction of certain passages deemed applicable to the Exemption section of the FOIA. FBI officers in charge of responding to FOIA requests "so heavily redacted the released records as to preclude needed research." [3]

J. Edgar HooverEdit

This trend of unwillingness to release records was especially evident in the process of making public the FBI files on J. Edgar Hoover. Of the 164 files and about eighteen thousand pages collected by the FBI, 2/3 were withheld from Athan G. Theoharis and plaintiff, most notably one entire folder entitled the 'White House Security Survey.' Despite finding out that the Truman Library had an accessible file which documented all the reports of this folder, the FBI and Office of Information and Privacy put forth "stony resistance" to the FOIA appeal process. (I – pg. 27) Some argue that it was not even this sixteen year series of three appeals to the Justice Department which gained a further opening of the files, but rather the case of U.S. Department of Justice v. Landano which spurred on a break in stolid FBI opposition.

Murder trialEdit

A murder trial decided in the year of 1993, U.S. Department of Justice v. Landano, involved what was alleged to be a felony murder committed during a group burglary by defendant Landano. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the unanimous opinion. "In an effort to support his claim in subsequent state court proceedings that the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, by withholding material exculpatory evidence, he filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for information it had compiled in connection with the murder investigation." [4] In defense, the FBI put forth a claim that the redacted sections of the documents requested were withheld in accordance with FOIA regulations protecting the identity of informants who gave information regarding case details. However, O'Connor ruled that those who supplied information had no need to remain anonymous in the court setting. "To the extent that the Government's proof may compromise legitimate interests, the Government still can attempt to meet its burden with in camera affidavits." The court thus remanded the case to the Circuit Courts and rejected the FBI's claim of confidentiality as being a valid reason to withhold information.

"While most individual sources may expect confidentiality, the Government offers no explanation, other than administrative ease, why that expectation always should be presumed."[4] Thus, when Theoharis and company were in the middle of fighting in court to obtain J. Edgar Hoover files, they may well have benefited from Landano and also Janet Reno's assertions of the government's need for "greater openness" and "discretionary releases" in 1993.

Executive OrderEdit

The controversial Executive Order 13233, drafted by Alberto R. Gonzales and issued by George W. Bush on November 1, 2001, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, restricted access to the records of former Presidents.

E-mail Edit

In the case of Scott Armstrong et al. v. Executive Office of the President et al., the White House used the PROFS [3] computer communications software. With encryption designed for secure messaging, PROFS notes concerning the Iran-Contra affair (arms-for-hostages) under the Reagan Administration were insulated. However, they were also backed up and transferred to paper memos. The National Security Council, on the eve of President George H.W. Bush's inauguration, planned to destroy these records. The National Security Archive, Armstrong's association for the preservation of government historical documents, obtained an injunction in Federal District Court against the head, John Fawcett, of the National Archives and Records Administration and the National Security Council's purging of PROFS records. A Temporary Restraining Order was approved by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker. Suit was filed at District Court under Judge Richey, who upheld the injunction of PROFS records. [[3] – pgs. 151-152]

Richey gave a further injunction to prevent a purging of the G.H.W. Bush administration records as well. On counts of leaving the White House clean for the new Clinton Administration, the Bush group appealed but was denied its request. Finally, the Clinton Administration appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, stating that the National Security Council was not truly an agency but a group of aides to the President and thus not subject to FOIA regulations. Under the Presidential Records Act, "FOIA requests for NSC [could] not be filed until five years after the president ha[d] left office… or twelve years if the records [were] classified." [[3] – pg. 156] The Clinton administration won, and the National Security Archive was not granted a writ of certiorari by the Supreme Court on these grounds. According to Scott Armstrong, taking into account labor and material costs, the three presidential administrations spent almost $9.3 million on contesting the National Security Archive FOIA requests for PROFS e-mail records. ([3] - pg. 159)

External links Edit

Credit and categoriesEdit

Smallwikipedialogo.png This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at {{{Journalism}}}. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Journawiki, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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