Good news: Obama issues executive orders on FOIA

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President Obama: "Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of my presidency"

President Barack Obama in a statement to the press on his first hours on the job said, "Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of my presidency." Now that is good news.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC), flashed the word about Obama's new press policy in a special communique.

Scheer reported, "Obama apparently has signed executive orders whose effect, among
other things, is to reverse the so-called "Ashcroft Memorandum,"
which (in)famously authorized executive branch agencies, when
responding to FOIA requests, to use their discretion under the law to
err on the side of withholding government information rather than
disclosing.

"The texts of the EOs are not yet available. Below are excerpts,
first, from Obama's statement to the press a few minutes ago, and
next, from a press release issued by the White House."

Excerpt of Obama statement to the press:

<< . . . The directives I am giving my administration today on how to
interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that. For a long
time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules
said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing
something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That
era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should
know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek
to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.

To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security
must
be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have
the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always
use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful
instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and
of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration
not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.

I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of
openness.
Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I
or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with
the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is
to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be
withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate
authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of
law
will be the touchstones of this presidency.>>

Excerpt of Press Release:

In the Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government,
and the Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act,
the President instructs all members of his administration to operate
under principles of openness, transparency and of engaging citizens
with their government. To implement these principles and make them
concrete, the Memorandum on Transparency instructs three senior
officials to produce an Open Government Directive within 120 days
directing specific actions to implement the principles in the
Memorandum. And the Memorandum on FOIA instructs the Attorney
General to in that same time period issue new guidelines to the
government implementing those same principles of openness and
transparency in the FOIA context.

Finally, the Executive Order on Presidential Records brings those
principles to presidential records by giving the American people
greater access to these historic documents. This order ends the
practice of having others besides the President assert executive
privilege for records after an administration ends. Now, only the
President will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse.
And the order also requires the Attorney General and the White House
Counsel to review claims of executive privilege about covered records
to make sure those claims are fully warranted by the Constitution.