FOIA Timeline

1953 Newspaper editor Harold Cross publishes The People's Right to Know, arguing that the electorate deserves to know about the workings of the government. The press would be a catalyst for getting FOIA passed.

1950s A Democrat-led Congress launches a series of hearings to try to get the executive branch to share more information with the legislative branch, in part because the Eisenhower administration fired a group of alleged Communists and refused to share details about who and why.

1961 President Kennedy takes office, but the legislation still stalls even with a Democrat in charge.

1966 President Johnson reluctantly signs the Freedom of Information Act, written by Rep. John E. Moss (D-Calif.), but the act has no enforcement mechanism.

1974 In the midst of the Watergate scandal, Congress overrides President Ford's veto and gives FOIA teeth. The amendment says that judges must review the claims of denied FOIA requesters rather than dismissing them on the basis of an affidavit filed by the government agency.

1984 Congress passes an amendment exempting certain CIA files that would expose the identity of spies.

1986 Congress passes an amendment offering greater protection of law enforcement files.

1987 President Reagan issues an executive order that a government agency must tell a business before releasing information that is identified as confidential, giving the business a chance to file a reverse lawsuit to keep the information confidential.

1994 The Clinton administration makes the National Security Council an advisory group to the president instead of a federal agency, exempting NSC records from FOIA.

1996 President Clinton signs an amendment making electronic records subject to FOIA requests, formalizing what the courts had already decided.

2001 Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) submit a bill, the Critical Infrastructure Information Security Act, that would protect businesses that voluntarily share information with the government.

2002 The FOIA exemption for critical infrastructure information gets added onto legislation creating the Department of Homeland Defense. Two different versions of the exemption make their way through the House of Representatives and Senate. At press time, the legislation was stalled, as Congress turned its attention to the conflict with Iraq. However, the debate had shifted from whether a new FOIA exemption should be passed to exactly how it should be worded.

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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