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House edits FOI publication to refute Ashcroft memo

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Mar 7, 2002    

House edits FOI publication to refute Ashcroft memo

  • A congressional publication intended to help Freedom of Information requesters has been updated to reflect a committee’s rejection of the Attorney General’s Oct. 12 memorandum promising support for FOI denials.

The House Government Reform Committee on March 7 agreed to edit a popular citizen’s guide to refute the Freedom of Information Act memorandum issued Oct. 12 by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In the introduction to the 81-page publication A Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records, the committee added a new paragraph in the FOI explanation following the already existing admonition: “Above all, the statute requires Federal agencies to provide the fullest possible disclosure of information to the public.”

The committee has oversight over FOI matters.

The new language reads:

“The history of the act reflects that it is a disclosure law. It presumes that requested records will be disclosed, and the agency must make its case for withholding in terms of the act’s exemptions to the rule of disclosure.

“The application of the act’s exemptions is generally permissive — to be done if information in the requested records requires protection — not mandatory. Thus, when determining whether a document or set of documents should be withheld under one of the FOIA exemptions, an agency should withhold those documents only in those cases where the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would be harmful to an interest protected by that exemption.

“Similarly, when a requestor asks for a set of documents, the agency should release all documents, not a subset or selection of those documents. Contrary to the instructions issued by the Department of Justice on October 12, 2001, the standard should not be to allow the withholding of information whenever there is merely a ‘sound legal basis’ for doing so.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking minority member, submitted the editorial changes, and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) approved them.

The committee last issued the guide in 1999.

RD

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