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q WA SCAN Directory

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Federal Freedom Of Information Act
 
Free information for our free country
"A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy - or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison
 
An informed electorate "must stand ready to sound the alarm when
necessary to point out the actions in any pernicious project." - Alexander Hamilton
q Automatic FOIA-request letter format!
q New FOIA Demands

q The American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom of Information Act

q Email Gregg Leslie, Staff Attorney

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Call Gregg at 703-807-2100 The RCFP will help journalists with FOIA requests.
 

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act

"The FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and the Privacy Act were created because people were having great difficulty dealing with federal government agencies. Especially when it came to getting copies of federal agency records.
 
As a result, Congress saw the need to give people the tools required to maintain a vigilant eye upon the agencies created (and those not created) by Congress".
 
There are two issues being addressed through these laws. The Freedom of Information Act establishes the right to know what government is doing. All government agencies must disclose all information unless that disclosure concerns one of the following:
 
  • litigation;
  • the CIA;
  • internal agency memos;
  • personnel matters;
  • trade secrets;
  • classified documents;
  • law enforcement activities;
  • confidential government sources;
  • violating an individual's privacy interests;
  • civil service exams (to the extent it would affect the fairness of the tests).
The FOIA prevents the government from becoming a Wizard of Oz-like entity operating the government behind a closed curtain.

The Privacy Act establishes our right to know what information the government collects on us, why it is collecting it, who has accessed this information, and allows us to receive a copy of this information. It also governs the activities of federal agencies with regard to why they may or may not collect certain pieces of data. The Privacy Act also allows for limited cases where another individual may access your records. These cases include:

 
  • a purpose similar to the original reason for collecting the information;
  • for statistical research;
  • for law enforcement purposes;
  • when ordered by a court;
  • if it is medically necessary for the requester to have access to the information.
Having both the FOIA and the Privacy Act is important because they can be used in tandem to access files. For example, the IRS has numerous files and "many of them are exempt from the access and notification provisions of the Privacy Act"(PA).
 
But they are not exempt from the FOIA. Thus, we can use the PA to identify the system of records pertaining to ourself [sic] and access the system with the FOIA".

The Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act will become more and more important as national federal databases grow. Just as the Information Age has prompted new laws governing communications, the FOIA and the Privacy Act will be changed in order to guarantee our rights as technology changes the way that we interact with the government.

 
After this update occurs we will be able to focus on the manner in which information is stored. The national database question is one that will be of growing importance in the years to come.
Federal Agencies Face
New Freedom Of Information Demands
All those little e-mails and electronic memos swapped among bureaucrats are yours to read - if you can wait months or years for federal agencies to implement provisions in the Electronic Freedom of Information Act that kicked in April 1, 1999.
The law, passed by the U.S. Congress last September, requires agencies to give out electronic copies of federal agencies' reports, discussions and paper, via the Internet or through CD-ROMs or diskettes.
 
Each agency must also distribute a guide to help people make requests for electronic information. But agencies must undergo "a cultural transformation to accommodate the requirements of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act," according to Steven Aftergood, an analyst at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. "The law does not change the reality. But it provides an incentive to modernize," said Aftergood.
 
So far, the only two agencies attempting to comply with the law are the Defense Department and the General Services Administration, said David Dempsey, a partner in the Washington law firm of Piper & Marbury. As of April 1 (1999), they are the only ones who have even issued draft Electronic Freedom of Information Act regulations, he said.