Saturday, December 22, 2007

Freedom of information expands in the US

In the wake of 9/11, there was a massive narrowing of freedom of information in the USA, as then-US Attorney-General John Ashcroft ordered federal government agencies to deny FOIA requests where there was uncertainty about the effect of release on national security. The US Congress has just unanimously voted to reverse that decision, creating a presumption of release unless thereis a definte finding of a security risk. But more than that, they've also dramatically tilted the playing field in favour of freedom of information, by requiring agencies to meet requests within 20 days or waive all fees, explain redactions (as is require dunder New Zealand's Official Information Act), expanding the law to cover nonproprietry information held by government contractors (something we should be doing here), and (most importantly) requring government agencies to meet requestor's legal fees if they lose or settle a FOIA lawsuit. It will also establish an "Office of Government Information Services" to resolve disputes without the expense of litigation and report on the FOIA's implementation. The net effect is to strengthen the FOIA, making it that much easier for US citizens to participate in their democracy and hold their government to account.

Unless of course Bush vetoes...