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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Mar > Mar 11

40th Year Of Law Falls In Period Of Secrecy

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2007 19:24:02 -0400
Fwd Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2007 19:24:02 -0400
Subject: 40th Year Of Law Falls In Period Of Secrecy

Source: The Sun News - Myrtle Beach, Florida, USA


Sun, Mar. 11, 2007

Freedom Of Information Act

40th Year Of Law Falls In Period Of Secrecy

By William Douglas
Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - It's been used to reveal how many times disgraced
lobbyist Jack Abramoff visited the White House, to search for
previously undisclosed details on President John F. Kennedy's
assassination and to aid UFO buffs in their never-ending effort
to find out what's really happening in Roswell, N.M.

The Freedom of Information Act, which gives citizens access to
federal government files, turns 40 this year. Born during Lyndon
Johnson's presidency, FOIA came of age after the Watergate
scandal and is a vital tool for individuals, journalists,
corporations and academics who seek information that the
government may be reluctant to release.

This week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors observes
Sunshine Week to celebrate FOIA and promote the need for open
government and freedom of information. This comes amid the Bush
administration's drive to withhold documents, records and other
information from public view.

"As a matter of policy, they are more secretive," said Tom
Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative
nonpartisan group that fights for government transparency. "They
just say no, which undermines the spirit and letter of FOIA."

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law on July 4,
1966, and went into effect the next year. It allows for full or
partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and
documents controlled by the federal government, with nine
exemptions for national security, personnel information, trade
secrets and other limited categories.

The use of FOIA is closely associated with journalism; news
outlets have filed FOIA requests in high-profile stories such as
the disputed 2000 presidential election. But journalists account
for only a small percentage of FOIA requests. The bulk of them
come from academics, advocacy groups and businesses, which use
the act for research, to gain information on competitors or to
promote their causes.

Those who believe in alien life forms have used FOIA to try to
pry open National Security Agency files on Roswell, citing a
famous UFO "crash" in 1947 that U.S. military officials said was
really a weather balloon.

"FOIA is an essential tool for citizens to find out what their
government is doing," Fitton said.

He and others say monitoring the government has gotten harder
under President Bush. A report last year by a bipartisan group
called OpenTheGovern ment.org indicated that the federal
government spent $7.7 billion in 2005 to mark documents secret.
The same year, citizens filed 2.7 million requests for
government records and materials through FOIA, an increase of
65,000 requests over the previous year, according to the same

"They are quite secretive. Most of it is their own predilection;
some of it is the result of Sept. 11," said Patrice McDermott,
OpenTheGovern ment.org's director. "I'm not sure if it's
unprecedented, but it is one of the most secretive
administrations in recent history."

On the state level, the Associated Press conducted a survey of
all 50 states and found that though laws in every state say
government records and meetings must be open to all, reality
often falls far short: Laws are sporadically enforced, penalties
for failure to comply are mild and violators almost always walk
away with nothing more than a reprimand.

Advocates for open government say public trust is at the heart
of our democracy, that scrutiny keeps officials honest, and that
information is the foundation of informed debate.

"We're in an era, clearly, where there's a lot of distrust in
government," said Bill Chamberlin of the Marion Brechner Citizen
Access Project at the University of Florida. "The more the
public officials are open in their conversation and show the
documentation that they're basing decisions on, it's going to
help the public have faith in what officials are doing."

The AP analysis found that nearly all states have crafted
penalties for those who violate sunshine laws, but the majority
do little to keep track of how often the law is broken and what
the punishment might be.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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