Government Secrecy

A Rare Glimpse of Bipartisanship on Open Government

A Rare Glimpse of Bipartisanship on Open Government

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:50pm
So this “lame duck” Congress may not be so lame after all – at least when it comes to increasing government transparency. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider a bipartisan measure that, while modest, would be one of the most significant improvements to the Freedom of Information Act in decades. Sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Texas Republican John Cornyn, we’re hopeful the committee will send the bill to the full Senate where it has a legitimate chance at passage, even in the politically fraught aftermath of this month's election. The legislation would take several small but important steps to improve FOIA. First and foremost, it would enshrine in law President Obama's pledge, made on his first day in office, to change the default response when the government receives a FOIA request to disclosure. While we've been critical of the Obama administration's approach to transparency on things like NSA surveillance, we strongly applauded this "presumption of openness," which stood in marked contrast to the approach of the Bush administration. The bill would also encourage the release of documents in electronic format and would, for instance, require agencies to release documents electronically if they've been publicly released and requested more than three times. Furthermore, it would require additional reporting by agencies on requests denied and documents released. Finally, it would clarify in the law that agencies cannot deny requests simply because the information requested would be embarrassing or merely technically fits one of the exemptions to FOIA (that is, the information could be covered by an exemption but release wouldn't result in harm). Additionally and importantly, it would limit FOIA's Exemption Five, which covers a broad range of documents covered by things like the attorney-client privilege and is often overused by agencies. Under the bill, only documents produced in the past 25 years would be eligible for withholding. The ACLU has long argued that the First Amendment rights of Americans require public access to government information, especially in areas like national security, where the government has an abiding incentive to withhold information about fraud, waste, embarrassment, or illegality. FOIA is the most important mechanism in service of that First Amendment value. We applaud Senators Leahy and Cornyn for their important legislation to make it a better law.
If America Is Going to Reveal the Truth About Torture, Obama Must End Gitmo’s Cover-Up Court

If America Is Going to Reveal the Truth About Torture, Obama Must End Gitmo’s Cover-Up Court

By Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, ACLU at 11:53am

This piece originally appeared at The Guardian.

When the Senate's long delayed torture report is finally released – if the new, Republican-controlled Senate releases it at all – the international conversation will rightly focus…

Uncle Sam's Databases of Suspicion

Uncle Sam's Databases of Suspicion

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project & Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 12:00pm

This piece originally ran at TomDispatch.com.

It began with an unexpected rapping on the front door.

When Wiley Gill opened up, no one was there. Suddenly, two police officers appeared, their guns drawn, yelling, "Chico Police Department."

"I…

Why is the Government Trying to Kill This Iran Defamation Suit?

Why is the Government Trying to Kill This Iran Defamation Suit?

By Dror Ladin, ACLU National Security Project at 12:28pm

Q: Why is the government trying to shut down a Greek billionaire's defamation suit against an influential anti-Iran advocacy group?

A: It's a secret.

United Against Nuclear Iran is a prominent nongovernmental organization that seeks…

Edward Snowden: One-on-One in Moscow

Edward Snowden: One-on-One in Moscow

By Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, ACLU at 10:19am

This originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of STAND, the ACLU magazine.

Edward Snowden stirs passions among many across the world. After all, in June of last year he provided classified materials to journalists working with The Guardian…

Blurry Street by Thomas Hawk

Documents in ACLU Case Reveal More Detail on FBI Attempt to Cover Up Stingray Technology

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:46am

What is used by dozens of local law enforcement agencies around the country, featured in numerous news stories, and discussed in court, yet treated by the FBI like it is top secret? That would be "Stingray" cell phone surveillance gear, of course.

This…

Guantanamo's New Purgatory

Guantanamo's New Purgatory

By Zak Newman, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:39pm

Muhammad Murdi Issa Al-Zahrani sat at the center of the conference room table, his foot shackled to the floor...

The NSA's Other Privacy Loophole

The NSA's Other Privacy Loophole

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 4:26pm

Earlier today, a former State Department civil servant named John Tye published an important op-ed in the Washington Post, explaining that the NSA has created a giant loophole in Americans' right to privacy. While we now know a good deal about the…

Guantanámo Judge to Prosecution: Turn Over the Torture Evidence

Guantanámo Judge to Prosecution: Turn Over the Torture Evidence

By Marcellene Hearn, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 1:16pm

Last month, a military judge dealt a significant blow to U.S. prosecutors' efforts to suppress torture evidence in the Guantanámo military commissions.

In a ruling in the U.S.S. Cole case, unsealed last week, Judge James Pohl told prosecutors…

New Court Orders Signal More Drone Documents Are on the Way

New Court Orders Signal More Drone Documents Are on the Way

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 2:43pm

This was originally posted on Just Security.

For more than four years of Freedom of Information Act litigation concerning the government's targeted-killing program, the government managed to avoid releasing a single document in response to…

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