The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Marcia Hofmann has a report card on transparent government measures undertaken by the Obama administration on its first day in office. The news is pretty damned good: they've reversed Ashcroft's restrictions on Freedom of Information Act requests as well as changes to the Presidential Records Act, and have adopted general principles on transparency and open government.
According to Obama's memo: "All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA."
This statement is almost certainly meant to address a controversial memo issued by John Ashcroft in the wake of 9/11, which ordered agencies to disclose information only after considering all possible reasons to withhold it, and assured them that government lawyers would defend their decisions in court unless they had no "sound legal basis." Many open government advocates believe Ashcroft's policy effectively gutted the FOIA over the past several years. Today's memo doesn't explicitly reverse that policy, but directs the incoming attorney general to issue new FOIA guidelines to agencies "reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency." This is a big step in the right direction.
The memo doesn't stop there. It goes on to say: "The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and down by their Government. Disclosure should be timely."
On Day One, Obama Demands Open Government
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