ACLU’s Top Lobbyist Urges Congress to Protect Freedom of Information Act, Says Government Transparency Vital to American Democracy

February 14, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON - Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, today appeared before a key House panel to discuss the Freedom of Information Act. Since the enactment of FOIA in 1966, the ACLU has used that crucial law to shed light on the government's actions and abuses.

"The Freedom of Information Act is democracy's X-ray," said Fredrickson. "It shows us the inner workings of government so we can identify the waste, fraud, abuse and corruption."

Fredrickson appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives. She noted that FOIA is the best tool Congress created to expose government abuse, and through exposure, to help end those abuses. Recently, ACLU litigators have used FOIA to bring to light illegal and improper methods the Bush administration has pursued in its anti-terrorism efforts.

For example, recent ACLU FOIA requests have revealed Pentagon and FBI spying programs targeting peaceful protest groups in the United States. Such actions waste precious government resources: every hour spent spying on a Quaker peace group is an hour not spent on investigating true terrorist threats. Another ACLU FOIA exposed evidence of officially sanctioned torture in U.S. detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq. While thousands of pages of documents have been released, the government continues to withhold countless documents that would shed further light on the decisions that led to the abuse.

FOIA's effectiveness has been undermined by the Bush administration's disdain for open government. In October 2001, in a reversal from Attorney General Janet Reno's practice that there should be a "presumption of disclosure," Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum encouraging executive agencies to adopt a policy of non-disclosure. This White House has used national security classification designations to hide embarrassing information or misconduct that is not truly secret information.

Fredrickson made 8 recommendations to the subcommittee including urging Congress to rescind the Ashcroft memo and restore the original purpose of FOIA by emphasizing the presumption toward disclosure.

"The Bush administration is intentionally and improperly shielding itself from public view, using ‘national security' as a barrier to prevent Americans from seeing what's happening inside our government," Fredrickson added. "Congress needs to restore and improve FOIA. A robust FOIA demonstrates the strength of a free nation dedicated to the rule of law."

The ACLU's testimony before the panel is available at:

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