Terror Watch List FOIA Exemption A Look at What’s to Come?

The FOIA Blog noted on Sunday that Congress wants to make Terror Watch List data automatically exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. He notes that the material is “often wrong”, which is inarguable, and adds “the material can already be withheld pursuant to a number of existing FOIA exemptions so the added legislation doesn’t really change how the material is handled”, making the whole thing kind of, um, pointless.

Now, I’m not so idealistic that I think Congress never does anything infantile, retarded, or pointless, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, shall we?

Why would the government want to pass legislation exempting the Watch List data from disclosure, when it’s already withholdable under the FOIA? I can think of two reasons:

1, to cut down on FOIA-related litigation, and related expenses, connected to the watch list;


2, because proposed – but not yet disclosed – FOIA reforms would roll back some of the existing protection covering those records, and DHS are being obstructionist over individual records systems… like the Terror Watch List.

Mind you, I see absolutely no evidence – yet! – to really support theory number two, but it might be worth keeping an eye on legislative proposals in the short term to see if any other government records systems get similar (proposed) treatment. If so, that might signal one possible prong of the Administration’s FOIA reform plan – perhaps weakening the “internal rules and practices” (“High 2” and “Low 2”) exemptions, for example (which have been somewhat overused by the DOJ in recent years, in my opinion).

Still, to put it cynically, we can hope that the government aren’t just being cheap bastards in this instance, and that there’s something else going on. 🙂

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on September 8th, 2009| Comments Off on Terror Watch List FOIA Exemption A Look at What’s to Come?

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