Today, EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel testified in a congressional hearing on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Obama administration. David's testimony outlined the disconnect between the White House's strong message on open government and the bureaucratic resistance to transparency in general.
The Obama administration marked a sea-change in official statements of policy about the FOIA, with the president directing agencies to have a "presumption of openness." But while the president and other top officials have said the right things, government agencies are still withholding wide swaths of information, and government attorneys are reflexively defending the practice when we are forced to take our FOIA cases to court.
Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, specifically told agencies that the Department of Justice would only defend FOIA denials under very narrow circumstances. However, EFF and other transparency groups have not noticed any substantial change. So we joined these other organizations in asking the DOJ to periodically publish a list of FOIA lawsuits it has declined to defend under Holder's new guidelines. The DOJ rejected this suggestion, but in EFF's testimony today, David urged lawmakers to request this information themselves and to make it publicly available.
This could be, of course, yet another example of how transparency forces accountability. Today's hearing comes during Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of America's open government laws and the better government that they help encourage. Just this week, the media widely reported the information EFF received on how law enforcement agencies use social networking sites to gather information in investigations. We are very proud of the breadth of information EFF's FOIA work has brought to light -- information that would have remained out of the public eye without the Freedom of Information Act and our litigation.
For FOIA to do the work the law is meant to do -- foster transparency, force accountability, and fight needless secrecy -- we need to keep fighting for honest disclosure. Read David's full testimony for all of EFF's suggestions to Congress. We hope lawmakers soon do good work on this important issue.