The article that you have inquired about does not exist. That’s the message that the US government could be sending out to citizens seeking documents currently available through the Freedom of Information Act.
Under a new proposed plan, the government would be able to defer FOIA requests for certain documents not just by refusing them, but by making claims that the files don’t even exist. A report this week from ProPublica reveals that certain documents pertaining to law-enforcement matters or issues of national security could be just shrugged off with officials being able to lie about the existence of documents that they decide to deem as imaginary.
According to the actual wording of the proposal that the Department of Justice recently offered, agencies would be able to respond to requests “as if the excluded records did not exist.” Politicians, journalists, researchers and any concerned citizen hoping to dig deep into certain matters would thus not just hit a road block, but be posed with a detour altogether. With the government denying the existence of potentially crucial materials, the public could only be expected to take their word for it and go on assuming they were simply on a path to something that never was.
“The problem is, if you’re a FOIA requester and the agency says they don’t have the records, you have no reason to doubt that,” Anne Weismann, the chief counsel of CREW, tells the Daily Caller. She adds that she believes that the government has a responsibility at times to protect sensitive information from certain audience, but this proposal “is an overbroad and improper response.”
In a joint response from the ACLU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and OpenTheGovernment.org, they say that this revision to FOIA rules “will dramatically undermine government integrity by allowing a law designed to provide public access to government information to be twisted to permit federal law enforcement agencies to actively lie to the American people.”
Jennifer LaFleur of ProPublica writes in her report that some advocacy groups have already offered a different revision to the FOIA rules, insisting that rather than the government deny the existence of files, simply offer a statement saying that they might not be available to interested parties, something she suggests along the lines of “You have requested ‘…records which, if they exist, would not be subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA…” In an instance such as that, the applicant interested in obtaining files could move to sue the government if they’d like to challenge their decision. From there, she cites a previous ruling from US District Judge Cormac Carney in that the “Government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the Court.”