Daily News Archive
From October 30, 2001

Attorney General Ashcroft Orders Agencies to Resist FOIA Releases

Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a new statement of policy encouraging federal agencies to resist Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests whenever they have legal grounds to do so, according to an article from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy.

This statement rejects the standard of "foreseeable harm" set by Attorney General Janet Reno in a 1993 memorandum, which promoted disclosure of government information through the FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." Ashcroft, instead, is encouraging Justice Department agencies to withhold information whenever there is a "sound legal basis" to do so.

The Attorney General advised, "When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold the records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis…"

This follows on the heels of the dismantlement of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) risk management program website, which informed communities of dangers from 15,000 chemical plants and other industrial facilities nationwide. This move was made along side several other government agencies in removing "sensitive information" from their website. Pages removed include information on pesticides, chlorine and gasoline. Although community activists have lobbied for years for more open access to records, agencies now say terrorist access to these documents puts the public in danger.

To view the new FOIA policy statement, see http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/2001foiapost19.htm

To view Attorney General Janet Reno's 1993 memorandum, see