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Friday, 20 March 2009

'Era of open government' behind information policy reversal

By Terry Frieden

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- To expand openness and transparency, the Obama administration has rescinded a Bush administration standard on withholding government documents, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.

Attorney General Eric Holder says the new administration wants to "usher in a new era of open government."

Attorney General Eric Holder says the new administration wants to "usher in a new era of open government."

All Obama administration departments and agencies will release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act unless doing so is forbidden by law or would harm a government interest, Holder said.

In 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft issued guidance to the Bush administration that the Justice Department would defend decisions to withhold records "unless they lack a sound legal basis."

But Holder says the new guidelines are designed to ensure greater openness and transparency.

"Now the department will defend a denial only if the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by [federal laws] or disclosure is prohibited by law," Holder said.

The attorney general said the new administration wants to "usher in a new era of open government." Holder said the new rule for officials facing whether to grant a request for information is clear: "In the face of doubt, openness prevails," he said. 

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