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RSF applauds new guidelines for Freedom of Information Act

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders praises Attorney General Eric Holder's comprehensive new guidelines regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In his memo addressed to the heads of executive departments and agencies, he expressly rescinds the Bush administration's policy of withholding information and instead advocates an open approach in the administration of the FOIA.

"An informed public is an essential aspect of a democracy and Attorney General Holder's guidelines should restore the public's trust in access to information," the press freedom organisation said. "This is a tremendous change from the disastrous standards of over-classification set forth in 2001 and a huge victory for the free flow of information and the American people. It will set the tone for how the executive branch will interpret and administer the FOIA."

The memo stipulates that agencies should "readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request." In addition, the agencies should have the tools they need to respond promptly and efficiently to FOIA requests. Furthermore, each agency's chief FOIA officer must ensure compliance with the law which asserts that whenever documents cannot [vs be released in full, as much information as possible should be released. Finally, FOIA denials will only be defended if an agency "reasonably foresees that the disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions."

The new guidelines sanction comments made by President Barack Obama the day after his inauguration, when he reiterated that the FOIA was not created to "keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears."

"The prevailing attitude under the Bush administration was that all information was confidential. The onus was on the individual filing an FOIA request to prove otherwise." Reporters Without Borders said. "Under these new guidelines, if there is any doubt whether or not the information should be made public, the ideals of openness and transparency should now prevail."

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