March 19, 2009


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WASHINGTON – New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines calling for a “presumption of openness” were issued today by Attorney General Eric Holder. The guidelines, fulfilling the directive of a presidential memorandum issued in January, overturn the “Ashcroft doctrine” of the Bush administration that allowed the government to withhold information requested through FOIA whenever legally possible. The attorney general’s announcement comes during “Sunshine Week” and follows the introduction of legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA in the Senate.


The American Civil Liberties Union has been a vocal advocate for open government and urged the Obama administration to rescind the Bush guidelines in its January transition document. FOIA is a critical tool to improve government transparency and ensure public accountability. As a result of ACLU lawsuits brought under the FOIA, the government has released many documents that have proved invaluable to public debate and policy making, including two Justice Department memos authorizing the CIA's use of torture, records about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and FBI documents showing its improper use of surveillance tools. However, since the government in previous years has fought disclosure every step of the way, these improvements to the FOIA law are vital.


The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:


“The ACLU is pleased that the Obama administration has made government transparency a priority. Strengthening FOIA is essential as we begin to chip away at the extreme secrecy of administrations past. By restoring the obligation of disclosure by the government, we will return to the original, open government objective of the Freedom of Information Act. A transparent government is an accountable government. That’s something we’ve been sorely missing in the last eight years. As we’ve seen, sunshine is the best of disinfectants and we look forward to this new and untainted era of government.”


To read more about the ACLU’s FOIA work, go to:


To read the ACLU’s statement on the recently introduced Senate FOIA legislation, go to:



To read the ACLU’s transition document, go to:


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