ACLU Lauds Introduction of Cornyn-Leahy 'OPEN Government Act,' Much-Needed Measure Would Increase Transparency, Access to Records

February 16, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the introduction of a measure, sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), designed to increase the transparency of the government by strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

“Senator Cornyn and the ACLU do not often agree, but, as his bill shows, a commitment to open government transcends political ideologies,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Office. “This much-needed bill will help buck the growing trend of hiding the actions of the government from public scrutiny. Secrecy, not openness, all too often seems to be the dominant trend of agencies in recent times.”

The bill, called the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005, or the “OPEN Government Act of 2005,” includes a series of much-needed corrections to policies that have eroded FOIA.

Specifically, the act would ensure that requesters have timely information on the status of their requests, set enforceable time limits for agencies to respond to requests, implement news media status rules that recognize the reality of freelance journalists and the Internet, and provide strong incentives – including both carrots and sticks – for agency employees to improve FOIA compliance. The act also includes a review of the new exemption in the Homeland Security Act for critical infrastructure information.

The ACLU pointed to a growing secrecy trend as a need for reforms to increase transparency. As J. William Leonard, director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office told a House panel last year, “It is no secret that government classifies too much information,” and the amount of materials that should not be classified at all “is disturbingly increasing.”

The 9/11 Commission last year recommended that Congress declassify the top line of the intelligence budget to better “foster accountability” – a move that was ultimately was rejected. The ACLU also noted that it through FOIA it obtained documents detailing the abuses of detainees in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib. Making targeted corrections to improve the operation of FOIA would make it a more effective accountability tool, the ACLU added.

“Nothing in the act precludes truly sensitive information from being handed out,” said Timothy H. Edgar, the ACLU counsel for national security policy. “Let us heed the call of James Madison and allow the people to ‘arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.’ We strongly urge Congress to pass the OPEN Government Act of 2005 to restore some of that power.”

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