The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 11, 2013

U.S. citing security to censor more public records

— WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year but more often than ever cited legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

The AP's analysis showed the government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as the previous three years. It turned over all or parts of the records in about 65 percent of all requests. It fully rejected more than one-third of requests, a slight increase over 2011, including cases when it couldn't find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration's performance on government transparency since Obama's election.

People submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 — an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from previous years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 — more than 603,000 — a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.

When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year. In most cases, more than one of the law's exceptions was cited in each request for information.

The government's responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of the federal offices' 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.

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