ASNE submits comments in response to proposed Release to All policy

ASNE submitted comments in response to the Department of Justice's proposed Release to All policy that would post documents online once those documents had been released in response to an individual FOIA request. The comments generally support Release to All as a strong tool to combat long processing delays and ensure maximum public access to government documents. 
However, we do suggest certain amendments to the draft policy, as follows:
  • The proposal offered two options with regard to the timing of a release: immediate online posting or posting after a delay of five days. Our comments argued that neither option sufficiently balances the interests of the public's right to know and the effect proactive disclosure can have on ensuring that right is as broad as possible with the need for some measure of exclusivity for the original requester. Based on conversations with individual ASNE members during the past few months and data collected by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, ASNE's comments argue for a longer delay before the release to all. We also recommend that the policy allow requesters to "anonymize" their identity when the documents themselves are posted online, which will guard against reporters being scooped while still making the documents themselves available to the general public.
  • We also argue that an exception allowing agencies to withhold certain sensitive documents from Release to All could undercut the entire policy unless clear standards are applied. These standards would effectively require a FOIA officer to engage in a second consideration as to whether a specific foreseeable harm might result from the release to all.
  • We make two suggestions in response to the section of the draft policy that allows agencies to refrain from a release to all where that practice might prove unworkable due to the volume or format of the records involved. First, we suggest that these records be subject to immediate release upon the filing of a subsequent FOIA request. Second, we ask that agencies be required to track the number of times they use this exception and include that as part of their annual FOIA reports.
We will keep you posted on the status of the Release to All program, which is supposed to commence in 2017.