Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New FoIA rule would allow government to lie about whether records exist

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Heavily redacted document

As if the Freedom of Information Act system wasn’t enough of a clusterfuck to deal with already, the Justice Department has proposed a new rule that would make it even more difficult to get any straight answers from the Most Open and Transparent Administration in HistoryTM:

A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don't exist—even when they do.

Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what's known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

The new proposal—part of a lengthy rule revision by the Department of Justice—would direct government agencies to "respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

Is it just me, or is it somewhat telling – and disturbing – that we now require civil liberties groups to actively fight the government from making it legal for officials to openly lie their assess off about matters that usually ought to be on the public record in the first place? That a government bullshits its people at all with impunity is about as controversial as mincemeat pie (not that the idealist in me doesn’t scream in dismay at such a sentence), but now, they’re actually trying to make it so they don’t even have to tell the truth about whether various records even exist. I never thought I could long for a return to plausible deniability.

At this point, the most honest thing the government could do is to just repeal the FoIA and be done with all the pretenses about transparency that they never have or will give the slightest damn about practicing.

(via @radleybalko)