Washington Markup

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.
FEC’s Coordination Definition Is a Big Hot Mess

FEC’s Coordination Definition Is a Big Hot Mess

By Michael Macleod-Ball, Chief of Staff, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:22pm

Members of Congress and donors in cahoots to deceive not only the American voting public but the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) as well? 

Shocking, I know.

According to a CNN report, a number of congressional campaigns may…

Stalling on Surveillance Reform Could Cost the GOP

Stalling on Surveillance Reform Could Cost the GOP

By Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel at 3:07pm

NSA reform could be the thorn in the side of the Republican Party next year.

Right now, there is a viable, bipartisan bill called the USA Freedom Act that would limit government spying on Americans and has received support from members of both…

On Leak Prosecutions, Obama Takes it to 11. (Or Should We Say 526?)

On Leak Prosecutions, Obama Takes it to 11. (Or Should We Say 526?)

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:58pm

James Risen is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He's also currently under subpoena, possibly facing jail time, because of his reporting.

Specifically, he's being investigated because of an article on a CIA ploy to hinder Iran's quest for…

Countering Violent Extremism: Time for the Administration to Get It Right

Countering Violent Extremism: Time for the Administration to Get It Right

By Zak Newman, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:07pm

Today President Obama took the unusual step of chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. He went seeking international support for the campaign against the group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including a U.S.-sponsored…

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…

The U.S. Government Can Brand You a Terrorist Based on a Facebook Post. We Can't Let Them Make up the Rules.

The U.S. Government Can Brand You a Terrorist Based on a Facebook Post. We Can't Let Them Make up the Rules.

By Arjun Sethi, ACLU at 12:17pm

This piece originally appeared at the Guardian's Comment is Free. 

The US government's web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.

As we were reminded again…

Whistleblower Says CBP Has Culture of Impunity and Violence

Whistleblower Says CBP Has Culture of Impunity and Violence

By Chris Rickerd, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:44pm

Yesterday the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) published what it described as "the most scathing public criticism ever lodged against Customs and Border Protection from a high-ranking official at the nation's largest law enforcement agency."

James…

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…

What Crack Cocaine Teaches Us About NSA Reform

What Crack Cocaine Teaches Us About NSA Reform

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:41am

This piece originally ran at POLITICO Magazine.

This week, Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator from Vermont, introduced a revised version of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to finally start pulling the reins on America's out-of-control surveillance…