Well, at Least We Have FOIA….Or Maybe Not

The Senate just passed a major amnesty for telecommunications companies accused of illegal surveillance. Glenn Greenwald notes that the bill would “provide full retroactive amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, thus forever putting an end to any efforts to investigate and obtain a judicial ruling regarding the . . . spying programs.”

Well, at least we can count on the the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to assure that things like this don’t happen in the future. Or, maybe not. . . it turns out that the “original five members saw their terms expire in January and they have not been replaced.”

Can FOIA help us keep tabs on the scope of surveillance programs? After all, Republican John Cornyn helped pass into law last year an Open Government Act that was supported by large majorities in both houses of Congress. It created an independent ombudsman position designed to improve the torpid FOIA process. President Bush signed it, but. . .

[B]uried in the President’s mammoth . . . budget document, on page 239, at the appendices of the Commerce Department section. . . is a phrase that does not mention FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, does not mention the Office of Government Information Services, which is the name of the ombudsman, does not mention the National Archive. It just has . . . [a] pithy little phrase that says, “This position will no longer exist.” And all duties are transferred to the Justice Department. What makes this so egregious is the Justice Department is the very agency that’s been criticized for not enforcing the Freedom of Information Act . . . .

Uh-oh. As journalist Rebecca Carr notes, “There [are] some Freedom of Information requests languishing in excess of 15 years. That’s far in excess of the 20-day time limit.”

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