A proposed advisory committee to modernize how agencies comply with the Freedom of Information Act could herald a major improvement in relations between government agencies and the researchers, journalists and others who seek documents from them, a privacy advocate says.
If the committee is poorly composed or led by agencies like the Justice Department that have typically advocated more latitude for agencies to deny records requests, however, it could prove little use, said Ginger McCall, federal policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency.
“At the very least it would do no harm, and it has the potential to do great good depending on the composition,” McCall said. “I’d want it to include people who are knowledgeable about FOIA and passionate and willing to take agencies to task. If it’s stacked with people who are very friendly with agencies and more concerned about maintaining their relationship with agencies, then that would not be good.”
Ideally the committee should include groups from outside government that have deep experience both requesting documents under FOIA and litigating over documents the government refuses to release, she said.
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