SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 82
August 9, 2007

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

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FOIA PERFORMANCE IS DETERIORATING, JOURNALISTS SAY

If the Leahy-Cornyn bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act that was adopted in the Senate last week becomes law, as expected, it will not happen a moment too soon, because current government handling of FOIA requests is deteriorating, according to a new analysis from the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (www.cjog.net).

"Over the past nine years, the number of FOIA requests processed has fallen 20%, the number of FOIA personnel is down 10%, the backlog [of pending requests] has tripled, and costs of handling a request are up 79%," the CJOG study reported.

In fact, "the cost of processing FOIA requests is up 40% since 1998, even though agencies are processing 20% fewer requests."

Productivity of FOIA requests has dropped in other respects as well.

"The number of denials [of FOIA requests] increased 10% in 2006 and the number of full grants, in which the requester got all the information sought, hit an all-time low."

See "Still Waiting After All These Years: An in-depth analysis of FOIA performance from 1998 to 2006," principally authored by Pete Weitzel, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, August 8, 2007:


ACLU SEEKS FOREIGN INTEL SURVEILLANCE COURT RECORDS

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an unusual motion with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court this week seeking public disclosure of recent Court orders interpreting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the law that regulates warrantless surveillance within the United States.

"Over the next six months, Congress and the public will debate the wisdom and necessity of permanently expanding the executive's authority to conduct intrusive forms of surveillance without judicial oversight," the ACLU motion stated, referring to the debate over the recent amendments to the FISA that will sunset in six months if they are not renewed.

"Unless this Court releases the sealed materials, this debate will take place in a vacuum."

"Publication of the sealed materials would assist the public in evaluating the significance of recent amendments to FISA and determining for itself whether those amendments should be made permanent," the ACLU argued.

A copy of the August 8 ACLU Motion for Release of Court Records is posted here:

An ACLU press release on the motion is here:

The ACLU motion admitted that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's docket "consists mainly of material that is properly classified." However, it noted, "on at least two occasions in the past, this Court has recognized the public interest in the Court's [activities] and has accordingly published its rulings."

"Disclosure of the sealed materials, with redactions to protect information that is properly classified, would be consistent with the Court's past practice and procedural rules," the ACLU said.


CRS REPORTS ON OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY

Recent reports of the Congressional Research Service on topics related to openness and transparency include the following.

"Does Price Transparency Improve Market Efficiency? Implications of Empirical Evidence in Other Markets for the Health Sector," July 24, 2007:

"State E-Government Strategies: Identifying Best Practices and Applications," July 23, 2007:

"Clinical Trials Reporting and Publication," updated July 12, 2007:

"Freedom of Information Act Amendments: 110th Congress," updated July 10, 2007:

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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