The U.S Justice Department has backed off proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act after strong public criticism to the changes, and a collective verbal lashing from lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum. Lawmakers felt that proposed changes gave the DOJ a license to lie to citizens who were looking for information from the government.
At issue was a proposal that gave the agency the ability to say that information "did not exist" if an agency determined that said information was classified in nature.
The wording from that proposal read: "the component utilizing the exclusion will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist. This response should not differ in wording from any other response given by the component."
The DOJ officially threw in the towel on Thursday.
"Having now received a number of comments on the Department's proposed regulations in this area, the Department is now actively considering those comments and is reexamining whether there are other approaches to applying exclusions that protect the vital law enforcement and security concerns that motivated Congress to exclude certain records from the FOIA and do so in the most transparent manner possible," DOJ legislative liaison Ronald Weich wrote in a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the lawmakers who questioned the proposal.
"The Justice Department decided that misleading the American people would be wrong, and made the right decision to pull the proposed regulation. The American people are increasingly cynical with the federal government, and increasing transparency can be an important tool to build more trust,” Grassley said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also issued a statement:
"I commend Attorney General Holder and the Obama administration for promptly withdrawing the Department’s proposed rule on the treatment of requests for sensitive law enforcement records," Leahy wrote. "It is essential to carefully balance the public’s right to know and government’s need to keep some information secret. The Justice Department’s decision to withdraw this proposal acknowledges and honors that careful balance, and will help ensure that the American people have confidence in the process for seeking information from their government."