Tuesday, December 06, 2005

FOIA exemptions help U.S. step up secrecy

The U.S. government released less information under the Freedom of Information Act in 2004 than in 2000, according to a newly released study by the Coalition of Journalists in Open Government. Even though FOIA requests to federal agencies dropped by 13 percent, their overall use of exemptions to screen information rose by 22 percent, the report says.

Forming the basis for this greater level of secrecy are three exemptions promoted by the Bush administration, CJOG contends. The exemptions allow withholding of information regarding intra- and interagency memoranda, internal personnel policies and proprietary information or trade secrets.

The report concludes:
"The findings make clear that the controversial 2001 memorandum from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft did in fact alter agency response to requests for public records. AshcroftÂ’s memo reshaped the guidelines agencies use when considering FOIA requests."
Notably, the study found that agencies denied FOIA requests less frequently in 2004 than in 2000. Nevertheless, requesters received significantly less information. Full grants -- where the requester received all information asked for -- fell from 55 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2004.

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