Feds want authority to deny existence of docs E-mail
Written by APB Staff   
The following is posted on the official web site of the Obama Administration - www.whitehouse.gov: "President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President's executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that's just the beginning of the efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government."

But that's what they say. The question of what federal officials actually do is a different proposition entirely.

It's unclear if the whole Operation Fast and Furious debacle, where the ATF lost track of the guns they were supposed to be tracking, is making the feds rethink the whole transparency thing. What is clear is the administration has done a 180-degree turn on their open government promises.

A newly proposed rule change by the Justice Department would allow the government to deny the very existence of documents sought by individuals and organizations.

So much for open government.

Under current law, federal agencies are allowed to block the release of information that officials deem "too sensitive." But now federal officials want the legal authority to deny the fact that information even exists.

According to a report from Fox News, the proposed rule directs federal law enforcement agencies, after personnel have determined that information is too sensitive to be released, to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests "as if the excluded records did not exist."

Call it the "I don't know what you're talking about," strategy.

Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, says the move is exactly the opposite of what the administration promised its approach to transparency would be. "Despite all the talk of transparency, I can't think of what's less transparent than saying a document does not exist, when in fact, it does," Sekulow told Fox News. Justice Department officials say they've been denying the existence of documents and information for decades but that now they think it might be a good idea to get the legal authority to do so.

A 1987 memo from then-Attorney General Edwin Meese advised DOJ staff that they could reply to certain FOIA requests as if the documents had never been created. That policy never became part of the law. Nor was it ever made into a federal regulation.

Mike German, Policy Counsel with the ACLU, authored a lengthy letter in opposition. "It's shocking that you would twist what is supposed to be a statute - that's supposed to give people access to what the government is doing - in a way that would allow the government to actually mislead the American public," German told Fox News.

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