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Associated Press CEO urges Senate to increase government transparency

[JURIST] Associated Press CEO Tom Curley told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on Wednesday that passage of the OPEN FOIA Act [text] is a necessary first step [testimony, PDF] to counter the "secrecy reflex at some agencies." At a hearing [materials; recorded video], Curley said that the use of section b(3) of the Freedom of Information Act [text], which allows Congress to write specific statutory exemptions into legislation, creates a "very large black hole in our open records law," which does not allow public or judicial review of the justification for withholding information. Curley highlighted questionable uses of b(3) exemptions which "have not been tested or challenged, or even discussed, in any public forum," including:

the identities of watermelon growers, the identities of people who handle honey, ... the ingredients in cigarettes, the private sector advice that government trade representatives and congressional committees use to shape trade policy, and also the studies that chemical plants conduct to determine the impact of any worst-case accident on neighboring communities and the environment.

The measure also received support [testimony, PDF] from National Security Archive [advocacy website] General Counsel Meredith Fuchs, who said that "many concerns remain among frequent FOIA requesters about the implementation" of transparency measures announced [JURIST report] by the White House in January.

Last month, transparency advocacy group OpenTheGovernment.org [advocacy website] found that the Obama administration's transparency record has been mixed [JURIST report], despite encouraging promises of openness. Also in September, the White House announced that for the first time in history it will disclose the names of all White House visitors [press release]. The Obama administration recently released a highly anticipated CIA interrogation report along with other documents but then refused to release [JURIST reports] further detainee treatment documents in response to a FOIA request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. In February, the Obama administration reasserted the state secrets privilege [JURIST report] in a lawsuit over CIA rendition flights, drawing criticism from advocacy groups including the ACLU. The Department of Justice is currently seeking an en banc rehearing of the case, in which the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST reports] that the state secrets privilege does not bar a lawsuit against a company that allegedly provided logistical support for the flights.

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