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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.
Dear Senate, Demand to Read Drone Memos Before Voting on Barron Nomination

Dear Senate, Demand to Read Drone Memos Before Voting on Barron Nomination

By Zak Newman, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:08pm

The ACLU wrote today to the full Senate membership urging senators to read key memos on the drone targeted killing program before voting on the nomination of David Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. You can read the full letter here.

Mr.…

Fearmongering NSA Reform

Fearmongering NSA Reform

By Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel at 1:07pm

On June 5, 2013, Edward Snowden shocked the world, providing proof that Americans were being spied on by their own government. Some praised him as a hero, others condemned him as a traitor, but there was general consensus that the NSA had severely…

113th Congress - S. 2685 - USA Freedom Act

Are We Getting Fooled on Surveillance Reform?

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:36pm

This piece originally appeared on the Monkey Cage blog at washingtonpost.com.

Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a revamped national security surveillance reform bill called the USA Freedom Act. Most privacy and civil liberties…

NSA Congress

House Tees Up Surveillance Reform for Senate

By Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel at 5:10pm

For the second time in just one month, late last night the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation – this time as an amendment to an appropriations bill that will now move to the Senate – aimed at reining in NSA abuse.

In…

Everybody Wants to Reform ECPA - So Where's the White House?

Everybody Wants to Reform ECPA - So Where's the White House?

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:01am

A coalition of over 70 organizations sent a letter yesterday to President Obama, urging him to support a clean update to our online privacy laws and warning him about the dangers of carving out any exceptions that would give some government agencies…

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