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Debate on Freedom of Information Act revs up

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Defenders and critics are drawing battle lines on Capitol Hill this week over a major reform that came out of the Watergate scandal. At issue is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which in 1974 was amended to become a powerful tool for allowing citizens to see government records. Since then thousands of people have been able to review their own files at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while reporters and reseachers have used the law to obtain government studies from reluctant agencies.

Following the lead of Washington, states and localities have passed similar "sunshine" laws, aimed at ending secrecy in government. The influence goes even further, according to Robert L. Saloschin, who administered the law for the US Department of Justice from 1969 until last March. He told a Senate subcommittee this week that the act is being watched by "Canada, Australia, Japan, and several European nations."

The Reagan administration has served notice that it wants to push the pendulum back on the Freedom of Information Act and plans to unveil its proposals for reform next September.

Meanwhile, at hearings in both houses of Congress this week, supporters argued for protecting the act as a guarantee of open government. And detractors accused the law of thwarting criminal investigations, national security, and American business interests, as well as costing too much money.

Jonathan C. Rose, assistant attorney general for legal policy, told a Senate subcommittee that there are "significant problems" with the act.


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