[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced [press release] Thursday new guidelines [memorandum, PDF] for complying with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text]. The new guidelines, designed to increase transparency in government, will
rescind the Attorney General's FOIA Memorandum of October 12, 2001, which stated that the Department of Justice would defend decisions to withhold records "unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records." Instead, the Department of Justice will defend a denial of a FOIA request only if (1) the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions, or (2) disclosure is prohibited by law.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which has been involved in many FOIA requests, welcomed [ACLU press release] Holder's new guidelines, calling to "essential" to strengthen the FOIA.
The new guidelines come as Congress considers legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA. In February, the ACLU criticized [press release] the Obama administration for its failure to release information relating to the extraordinary rendition programs. Holder's directive finalizes a memorandum [text] issued by President Barack Obama in January, in which he called on all agencies to "adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure" [JURIST report] with regard to FOIA documents.