July 4th marks not only the anniversary of America’s independence, but also the birthday of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Passed by Congress in 1966, and reluctantly signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on the last day before it would have been pocket-vetoed, FOIA has revolutionized public access to government documents and records. It is used hundreds of thousands of times each year by news organizations, citizens and businesses.
The FOIA was initially introduced as the bill S. 1160 in the 89th Congress. When the two-page bill was signed into law it became Pub.L. 89–487, 80 Stat. 250, enacted July 4, 1966, but had an effective date of one year after the date of enactment, or July 4, 1967. During the period between the enactment of the act and its effective date, Title 5 of the United States Code was enacted into positive law. For reasons Wikipedia describes as “now unclear but which may have had to do with the way the enactment of Title 5 changed how the law being amended was supposed to be cited“, the original Freedom of Information Act was replaced. A new act in Pub.L. 90–23, 81 Stat. 54, enacted June 5, 1967 (originally H.R. 5357 in the 90th Congress), repealed the original and put in its place a substantively identical law. This statute was signed on June 5, 1967, and had the same effective date as the original statute: July 4, 1967. Ironically, it was Lyndon Johnson who signed the act into law, in spite of misgivings.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is a federal freedom of information law that allowed for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The act is still in force, and FOIA requests are still filed and responded to in the US and in other countries where similar legislation exists. The US government itself does not provide easy access to these documents, but thousands of FOIA acquired documents are available at GovernmentAttic.org/.
After September 11th, 2001, in the face of the routine censorship under the “war on terror” dogma, John Young reports increasing stonewalling by US government officials and these days almost no information of value is forthcoming. He said in 2013 that he makes only about 1 FOIA request per year and that he thinks that “the FOIA system should be closed as a money-wasting fraud.”
In his final year in office, former President Barack Obama’s administration spent a record $36.2 million defending itself from Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, according to a new Associated Press analysis.
When the money is broken down, the AP found that the biggest chunks were spent by the Justice Department ($12 million), the Department of Homeland Security ($6.3 million) and the Pentagon ($4.8 million).
The Obama administration also denied access to requested documents and information more than any previous administration. The AP report revealed that Obama’s government “set a record for times federal employees told citizens, journalists and others that, despite searching, they couldn’t find a single page of files that were requested.”
The news wire also concluded that the Obama administration set the record for “outright denial of access” to files by refusing to quickly consider requests described as “newsworthy.” (The Blaze)
Under the Obama administration, the DEA more than doubled its rate of denials of FOIA requests. The FBI, an agency “considered notoriously opaque by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) experts” in 2017, took steps to reduce transparency, by declaring that it would no longer be accepting FOIA requests by email.