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Bush FOIA Policy Stresses Privacy; New Info Exemption Possible


Society of Professional Journalists FOI Alert
October 24, 2001
Vol. 6; No. 8

Contact: Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman
ian@kpax.com or 406/542-4400.

SPJ urges openness; Web resources available

The Bush administration will focus more on protecting the privacy of individuals, institutions and corporations as it applies the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The Society of Professional Journalists has expressed its disappointment in the new policy and has urged Attorney General John Ashcroft to not use national security concerns as an excuse to hide large amounts of public records.
The administration’s approach to FOIA was revealed on Oct. 12 in a memo from Ashcroft to federal departments and agencies.
Ashcroft’s memo establishes a new FOIA policy which replaces the policy enacted in October 1993 by then-Attorney General Janet Reno.
Each new attorney general customarily establishes a new FOIA policy upon assuming office. While Ashcroft’s memo refers to the merits of FOIA in relation to government accountability and the exposure of fraud and waste, it stresses privacy issues.
“Any discretionary decision by your agency to disclose information protected under the FOIA should be made only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by disclosure of the information,” it states.
Ashcroft’s memo also instructs agencies to consult with Justice Department lawyers, including civil litigation lawyers, “when significant FOIA issues arise.”

To read the full text of Ashcroft’s memo, visit the Department of Justice’s Web site at:

To read SPJ’s response to Ashcroft, visit on-line at:

To read Attorney General Reno’s 1993 FOIA policy memo, as printed in the Justice Department’s “FOIA Update” in 1993, visit the DOJ Web site at:

The Justice Department also maintains President Clinton’s 1993 statement of support for FOIA, which remains in place. To read that memo, visit:

Additionally, President Bush is said to be ready to support a new, “narrowly crafted,” exemption to FOIA to allow certain private sector information on computer information security to remain secret. In particular, the exemption would cover reports of security breaches or other problems in corporate information systems. The Associated Press reported the story on Oct. 18, after a speech by John Tritak, director of the administration’s Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office. The AP reported that the new exemption would “overcome traditional reluctance by industries, especially technology, to reveal potentially embarrassing details without fear of disclosure.”

For more information on the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and the newly-created Critical Infrastructure Protection advisory board, visit:

To subscribe to the Society of Professional Journalists FOI Alert, contact SPJ at spj@spj.org or call 317/927-8000. In your message, provide your name, organization, mailing address, e-mail address, phone number and fax number. There is no fee. We strongly encourage the wide dissemination and publication of these alerts in other forums.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation's largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

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