Obama administration invoking privacy concerns to block FOIA requests

The Obama administration is increasingly invoking privacy concerns to block Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by journalists.

The FOIA includes nine exemptions that agencies can use to block disclosure of information in response to a FOIA request. Last year, the most commonly invoked exemption invoked by the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, as well as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, was the exemption to protect personal information that could affect an individual’s privacy, according to research by FierceGovernment.

In addition, the research found that federal agencies relied on exemptions 33% more frequently in 2010 than in 2008.

The FierceGovernment research would seemed to contradict a statement made by Attorney General Eric Holder this week that the administration is making “meaningful, measurable progress in improving the way our department – and its partners and counterparts – respond to disclosure requests”, unless progress means turning down more FOIA requests.

Holder said that his department “achieved a release rate of more than 94 percent of requests where records were processed for disclosure. And we released nearly 80 percent of these records in their entirety.”

The attorney general said that the FOIA request backlog was reduced by a quarter last year and the backlog of pending requests by more than 40%. In addition, his department last year launched FOIA.gov, which displays statistics and serves as a resource for those who make FOIA requests.

 

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Compliance and Policy  • Public Sector

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