WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice (DOJ) today withdrew a proposed regulation that would allow government agencies to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests with false denials that the documents sought actually exist, when, in fact, they do. Providing such false denials has apparently been a practice at DOJ for decades, which was most recently revealed in a FOIA lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The ACLU Washington Legislative Office and members of Congress across the ideological spectrum including Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mark Udall (D-CO), and Representative Lamar Smith (R-IL) in particular, along with OpenTheGovernment.org, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and other open government groups, helped pressure DOJ to withdraw this regulation.
The open government community will work with Congress and the administration to create effective guidelines and oversight that ensure government agencies provide sufficient information to understand how FOIA requests are handled, so citizens can effectively use the courts to protect their right to government information while still protecting the government’s need for secrecy in very narrow circumstances.
“Government accountability can only be assured through transparency,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Putting an end to lies about the mere existence of documents is one step toward restoring Americans' trust in their government. We will work with the Justice Department to develop a truthful and informative response to all FOIA requesters, even where the government is authorized to withhold documents from release.”