Friday, April 15, 2005

Geoerge W Bush discusses US FOIA

Taken from: "President Addresses American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention"

Note: in the US the following Bill has been proposed:Faster FOIA Act of 2005, read more at


Q In processing FOI requests, should government officials presume that information should be given to citizens? Or should the burden fall on citizens to convince government to give them access to information?

THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting way to put the question. Look, the presumption ought to be that citizens ought to know as much as possible about the government decision-making. Rich and I talked about this backstage a little bit, of course. He's constantly lobbying me. (Laughter.)

I know there is a tension now between making the decision of that which is -- that which can be exposed without jeopardizing the war on terror -- and I understand there's a suspicion that we -- we're too security-conscience [sic]. Let me refer you to the WMD report that -- the Silberman-Robb Commission -- as an example, however, of how I hope that we're becoming balanced between that which the public ought to know and that which, if we were to expose, would jeopardize our capacity to do our job, which is to defend America.

Ninety percent of the report was declassified. I think that might have surprised the press corps. I don't know, I don't want to speak for you all. But I think people following this issue were surprised that so much was declassified. And, yet, the Silberman-Robb Commission made it really clear that had the other 10 percent been declassified, it would have created -- it would have jeopardized our capacity to protect the country. It would have exposed sources and uses.

Rich talked about, you know, I didn't realize we spent that much money on protecting it, but we also spend a lot of money on analyzing FOIA, because somebody told me there's 3.5 million FOIA requests a year, which is a lot. I can't tell you the percentage which passed, or not passed, but there is -- there's an active interest in people reading documents. And I would hope that those who expose documents are wise about the difference between that which truly would jeopardize national security and that which should be read.

Look, John Cornyn is a good friend, and we look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make -- it would hope -- put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't [sic] see. I will tell you, though, I am worried about things getting in the press that put people's lives at risk. And I know you -- I'm sure you feel the same way, and everybody in the room would feel that same way.

And it's that judgment about what would put somebody's life at risk, and what doesn't, is where there's tension. And to answer your question, I believe in open government. I've always believed in open government. Rich is right. You know, I don't email, however. And there's a reason. I don't want you reading my personal stuff. There has got to be a certain sense of privacy. You know, you're entitled to how I make decisions. And you're entitled to ask questions, which I answer. I don't think you're entitled to be able to read my mail between my daughters and me.

And so I've made -- I've made an easy decision there. I just don't do it. Which is said, really, when you think about it. Everything is investigated in Washington. And that's just the nature of the way here right now. And so we're losing a lot of history, not just with me, but with other Presidents, as well. And so there's a balance to all this. And I hope it's said -- when it's all said and done that we were fair to the press corps and the American people.

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