Secrecy News

Justice Dept Updates its FOIA Regulations

The Department of Justice last week published newly updated regulations on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, with several notable changes made in response to public comments.

Fifteen sets of comments were submitted by individual members of the public or public interest organizations after the Department released its draft FOIA regulations in 2011. In a lengthy Federal Register notice on April 3, the Department addressed all of the comments, and actually adopted a number of the changes recommended by public commenters.

Among the changes that were approved:

*    The revised regulations explicitly include news organizations that operate solely on the Internet as “representatives of the news media,” making them exempt from search fees.

*    “The revised fee schedule includes a decrease in duplication fees due to advances in technology.”

*    The revision adds language specifying that “in responding to requests for classified information, the component [of DoJ to which the request is addressed] must determine whether the information remains currently and properly classified.”

Some other new provisions should make it easier to use the FOIA, including a procedure for consulting with the Department’s FOIA Public Liaison in advance of making a request. The revised regs also incorporate a statement of policy that would “encourage discretionary releases of information whenever disclosure would not foreseeably harm an interest protected by a FOIA exemption.”

It nevertheless remains true that in order to take full advantage of the tools provided by the Freedom of Information Act, it is often necessary for requesters to litigate over information that is withheld or denied.

According to The FOIA Project, there were 422 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed in federal district court last year, up from 372 the year before and 342 the year before that.