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Department of Justice Memos Related to FOIA

On October 12, 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft issued a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies that supersedes the Department of Justice FOIA policy memorandum that had been in effect since October 1993. The new Ashcroft FOIA Memorandum was effective immediately upon issuance, and the presidential statement on the FOIA that was issued in 1993 remains in effect as well.

On March 19, 2002, Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, issued a memorandum urging agency and department heads to undergo "an immediate reexamination" of ..."information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people." A second memo was attached that provided guidance for the process. The guidance urged agencies to look at their classified, reclassified and declassified information, but also created a new ambiguous category, called "sensitive but unclassified." The guidance stated, "The need to protect such sensitive information from inappropriate disclosure should be carefully considered, on a case-by-case basis."

In August 2003, ARL joined others in the public interest community in a letter to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge on "sensitive but unclassified information."

On March 19, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder released revised FOIA guidelines that detail how FOIA requests will be managed during the Obama administration. In January 2009, President Obama signaled a significant departure from the previous administration's policy on the openness and transparency of government. A key element of the Obama administration policy is the position that disclosure of government records is now presumed and calls upon agencies to "readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request."

For more in-depth information about the FOIA, please see the Department of Justice FOIA post page.



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