Coalition calls on the Obama Administration to halt efforts to weaken the FOIA and the Privacy Act

Today, a coalition of organizations committed to promoting government openness and accountability, and to the defense of privacy rights, is calling on the Obama Administration to protect two laws that serve as the twin pillars of government accountability — the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act. The letter asks the Administration to suspend any pending rules or regulations that would diminish the effectiveness of the laws.

Specifically, the letter asks that the OMB approve no pending rule that would expand the ability of a government agency to exempt their system of records from Privacy Act obligations by asserting a “routine use”* or other exemption. In recent months, there have been troubling attempts by the FBI to weaken privacy protections around the controversial Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, and their Insider Threat program records. The openness community submitted comments opposing both proposed rules, instead calling for greater transparency and privacy protections around both records systems. Other rules pending include the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) to expand its data collection programs without adequate privacy safeguards, and the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) to exempt portions of its border patrol enforcement records system from certain Privacy Act provisions. 

The coalition also asks OMB to oppose any new barriers to individuals seeking information under the FOIA. As we prepare for a new administration, the coalition notes, “it is essential that OMB leave in place the strongest possible safeguards to ensure government accountability.”

In addition to OMB, the letter was also sent to the Congressional oversight committees to alert leaders in Congress that the open government and privacy communities will be following closely related actions by the incoming administration.

Read the full letter here.

Additional Resources:

Coalition Opposes FBI Proposal to Weaken Privacy Protections for Insider Threat Program Records

Coalition submits comments opposing FBI proposal to exempt controversial biometrics database from Privacy Act protections

*The letter notes that the signatories do not oppose the rule change proposed to agencies by the Office of Government Information Services for a single-use “routine use” to improve resolution of FOIA disputes.