The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 16, 2014

U.S. cites security more to censor, deny records

(Continued)

Citizens, journalists, businesses and others last year made a record 704,394 requests for information, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. The government responded to 678,391 requests, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year. The AP analysis showed that the government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 244,675 cases or 36 percent of all requests. On 196,034 other occasions, the government said it couldn't find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.

Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee's phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.

The White House said the government's figures demonstrate "that agencies are responding to the president's call for greater transparency." White House spokesman Eric Schultz noted that the government responded to more requests than previously and said it released more information. "Over the past five years, federal agencies have worked aggressively to improve their responsiveness to FOIA requests, applying a presumption of openness and making it a priority to respond quickly," Schultz said.

Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

The chief of the Justice Department's Office of Information Policy, which oversees the open records law, told the Senate last week that some of the 99 agencies in the past five years have released documents in full or in part in more than 90 percent of cases. She noted the record number of requests for government records, which exceeded 700,000 for the first time last year, and said decisions are harder than ever.

"The requests are more complex than they were before," director Melanie Pustay told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The government's responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of its transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. It cited such exceptions a record 546,574 times last year.

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