ACLU Joins Bipartisan Allies in Calling for More Open Government; Much-Needed Measure Would Strengthen Freedom of Information Act

March 15, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Citing a growing concern over efforts by the government to over-classify and shield information from the public, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged a Senate committee to enact a bipartisan proposal designed to increase the transparency of the government by strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

“Government secrecy is an enemy of a healthy democracy,” Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “Congress should act decisively to ensure that information about the government’s use of power is accessible to the American people and that the government is accountable for its actions.”

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently introduced S.394, the “Openness Promotes Effectiveness in Our National Government Act of 2005.” If adopted, the bill would correct policies that have eroded the promise of the Freedom of Information Act, such as:

  • Ensuring that Freedom of Information requesters have timely information on the status of their requests.
  • Setting enforceable time limits for agencies to respond to requests.
  • Implementing news media status rules that recognize the increasing importance of freelance journalists and the Internet.
  • Providing strong incentives for agency employees to improve FOIA compliance.

The OPEN Government Act would also require Congress to review the new FOIA exemption in the Homeland Security Act for critical infrastructure information.

“There is an alarming amount of public information that is being kept secret by the government,” Graves added. “Congress must continue to resist the culture of secrecy that unnecessarily permeates the government, no matter which party is in power.”

Today’s hearing on the OPEN Act occurs during “Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to increase public understanding and support for freedom of information and to start a national dialogue on the importance of open government and the public’s right to know.

“At no time during our history has the public’s right to know been more important than it is today,” Graves said.

To read the testimony of Lisa Graves on the OPEN Government Act, go to:

The ACLU’s letter of support for the OPEN Government Act can be read at:

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