Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Freedom of Information Act turns 41

Yesterday, on the 4th of July, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) turned 41 years old.

On tha occation, Wired had an online article about the act

Bittersweet Sunshine: Four Decades of FOIA Wins and Losses

U.S. government documents used to be considered secret unless individual agencies decided to release them.

But on July 4, 1966, that presumption was inverted when the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law, declaring that in a government of, by and for the people, government records must be released to the public upon request, unless those records meet a handful of defined exemptions.

Over the last four decades, FOIA (pronounced "foy-ya") has become one of the most important laws creating openness and transparency in government. It's a key tool for journalists and nonprofit groups investigating the workings of the federal government.

It has been used to reveal the FBI's Vietnam-era surveillance of American dissidents, CIA drug experiments on American citizens, and government inspectors turning a blind eye to the sale of contaminated meat, among many other things.

But as a just-released report from the National Security Archive showed, bureaucracies still resist the law's openness imperative. They will ignore requests, take decades to process them or redact embarrassing information. A bill that would penalize agencies for foot-dragging was set to be voted on earlier this year by the full Senate, but was stalled by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), who put a secret hold on the bill. There will be no progress until he removes the hold.

Despite these obstacles, persistent reporters and public-interest organizations have been able to crack the veil of secrecy that bureaucrats and politicians use to hide their motivations and machinations.

In honor of the law's 41st birthday, Wired News presents five of the best technology-focused FOIA wins and five that are still outstanding.

Openness and transparency is important to create true democracies, and avoid nepotism, corruption and outright power abuse. Go read the cases that Wired included.

One of the outstanding cases, Warrantless Wiretapping Documents, might get closer to and end though. Electronic Frontier Foundation sends out a newsmail about what is happening on the electronic freedom front, and the latest mail included the following:

It's Official: Senate Committee Issues Subpoenas for Key
NSA Spying Docs

After voting to authorize subpoenas for information on the
NSA spying program last week, the Senate Judiciary
Committee has now officially issued them.

Read the rest of it here

Note: This is a repost of an earlier post, in which someone had left some nasty spam-javascript in the comments. A comment I couldn't delete for some reason. If this happens again, I guess I will have to turn comment moderation on. *sigh*

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