New Legislation Would Reform the Freedom of Information Act

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On December 18, 2007, Congress approved a bill that would make the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) more formidable by increasing pressure on federal agencies to comply with meaningful deadlines for responses to FOIA requests and imposing consequences for late responses. The bill, known as the “OPEN Government Act of 2007,” was delivered to the President on December 19, 2007. It is expected to pass into law during the congressional recess. Prompted by the Government’s movement toward greater secrecy after 9/11, the new reporting requirements and

penalties introduced by the bill will pressure agencies to release more records, more quickly than in the past.

In introducing the bill, Congress cites the words of Justice Black in his concurring opinion in Barr v.

Matteo, 360 U.S. § 564 (1959), “The effective functioning of a free government like ours depends largely on the force of an informed public opinion. This calls for the widest possible understanding of all quality of government service rendered by all elective or appointed public officials or employees.”

To this end, the bill would require agencies to assign individual tracking numbers to requests and establish a telephone or Internet service by which individuals could track the status of their requests. The bill would introduce a number of other changes as well, including increased agency reporting requirements.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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