U.S. cites security to censor records

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration last year answered more public requests to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act, but it cited legal exceptions more often than it ever has to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

The analysis showed that the government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as in the prior three years. It turned over all or parts of the records in about 65 percent of all requests.

It fully rejected more than one-third of the requests, a slight increase over 2011, including cases when it couldn't find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration's performance on government transparency since Barack Obama's election.

People submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 -- an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from prior years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 -- more than 603,000, or a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.

When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, roughly a 22 percent increase over the previous year. In most cases, more than one of the law's exceptions was cited in each request for information.

The government's responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of the federal offices' transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for no or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

The AP review comes at the start of the second term for Mr. Obama, who pledged during his first week in office that the nation's signature open-records law would be "administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails."

The review examined figures from the largest federal departments and agencies. Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.



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