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Attorney General Overturns Strict FOIA Guidelines

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
The Obama administration today made good on an earlier promise to make government agencies more responsive to requests to release documents to the public.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was overturning the stricter guidelines employed by the Bush White House when it came to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applications. In a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies, Holder instructed government workers to apply "a presumption of disclosure" when handling FOIA requests.

"The American people have the right to information about their government's activities, and these new guidelines will ensure they are able to obtain that information under principles of openness and transparency," Holder said in a statement announcing the new guidelines.

In his memo, Holder said that agencies must release information unless doing so is specifically prohibited by law.

The Freedom of Information Act was established in 1967. News organizations and watchdog groups rely on it to access government information that they believe should be shared with the broader public.

Since FIOA's inception, administrations have differed widely on how freely they think government departments should release information to the media and other organizations.

Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, followed a relatively restrictive standard. In October 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft informed federal agencies that he would defend any sound legal justification for withholding records.

One of the first announcements that Mr. Obama made as president was that he intended to alter the Bush administration's policy regarding FOIA requests.

"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," Mr Obama said at the time.

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