1993-10-06 - FOIA requests reworded

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From: Paul Goggin <chaos@aql.gatech.edu>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com (Cryptoanarchists are Us)
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Message ID: <9310062135.AA00959@toad.com>
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UTC Datetime: 1993-10-06 21:39:13 UTC
Raw Date: Wed, 6 Oct 93 14:39:13 PDT

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From: Paul Goggin <chaos@aql.gatech.edu>
Date: Wed, 6 Oct 93 14:39:13 PDT
To: cypherpunks@toad.com (Cryptoanarchists are Us)
Subject: FOIA requests reworded
Message-ID: <9310062135.AA00959@toad.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
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Thought this might be of interest to us cypherpunks and the EFF, in case you 
have not heard. Excerpted from the most recent issue of ALAWON.



On October 4, President Clinton and Attorney General Reno rescinded a 1981
rule which encouraged federal agencies to withhold information requested
under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) whenever there was "a
substantial legal basis" for doing so.  In its place, agencies are directed
to apply a "presumption of disclosure."  A memorandum from President
Clinton urged agencies to take a fresh look at their administration of the
FOIA, to reduce backlogs of requests, and to enhance public access to
information.  (See below for the full text of the memorandum.)

In a memorandum sent to heads of departments and agencies, Attorney General
Reno stated that
     ...we must ensure that the principle of openness in government is
     applied in each and every disclosure and nondisclosure decision that
     is required under the Act....It shall be the policy of the Department
     of Justice to defend the assertion of a FOIA exemption only in those
     cases where the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would be
     harmful to an interest protected by that exemption.  Where an item of
     information might technically or arguably fall within an exemption, it
     ought not to be withheld from a FOIA requester unless it need be.

At a Department of Justice briefing, Associate Attorney General Webster
Hubbell acknowledged that there was a huge backlog of FOIA requests, and
said the Department of Justice wanted to hear of the problems requestors
were having.  He said that the Department would review all pending FOIA
lawsuits, but would not provide additional funding to fill FOIA requests.
When asked about FOIA access to electronic records, John Podesta, White
House Staff Secretary, replied that agencies would work with users to get
information to them in a usable way.  He added that OMB, the White House,
and the Department of Justice were all committed to making information

One person at the briefing asked about privacy issues, and noted that the
FBI would not search for records on an individual because of concerns about
privacy.  Hubbell replied that the FBI should ask the individual first, but
that the new FOIA regulations presumed disclosure.  He added that the
Department of Justice would discuss the matter with the FBI director.



                              The White House
                              October 4, 1993


SUBJECT:  The Freedom of Information Act

I am writing to call your attention to a subject that is of great
importance to the American public and to all Federal departments and
agencies -- the administration of the Freedom of Information Act, as
amended (the "Act").  The Act is a vital part of the participatory system
of government.  I am committed to enhancing its effectiveness in my

For more than a quarter century now, the Freedom of Information Act has
played a unique role in strengthening our democratic form of government.
The statute was enacted based upon the fundamental principle that an
informed citizenry is essential to the democratic process and that the more
the American people know about their government the better they will be
governed.  Openness in government is essential to accountability and the
Act has become an integral part of that process.

The Freedom of Information Act, moreover, has been one of the primary means
by which members of the public inform themselves about their government.
As Vice President Gore made clear in the National Performance Review, the
American people are the Federal Government's customers.  Federal
departments and agencies should handle requests for information in a
customer-friendly manner.  The use of the Act by ordinary citizens is not
complicated, nor should it be.  The existence of unnecessary bureaucratic
hurdles has no place in its implementation.

I therefore call upon all Federal departments and agencies to renew their
commitment to the Freedom of Information Act, to its underlying principles
of government openness, and to its sound administration.  This is an
appropriate time for all agencies to take a fresh look at their
administration of the Act, to reduce backlogs of Freedom of Information Act
requests, and to conform agency practice to the new litigation guidance
issued by the Attorney General, which is attached.

Further, I remind agencies that our commitment to openness requires more
than merely responding to requests from the public.  Each agency has a
responsibility to distribute information on its own initiative, and to
enhance public access through the use of electronic information systems.
Taking these steps will ensure compliance with both the letter and the
spirit of the Act.

                           (signed) William J. Clinton


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