Washington, DC – People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) President Ralph G. Neas said today that a Justice Department demand for nearly $400,000 in fees for a FOIA request regarding the decision to seal the records of immigrants detained in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks is outrageous, and another in a series of strategies to deny access to public information.
“Apparently, they’ve taken the ‘free’ out of ‘Freedom of Information.’ If you want to learn about secret trials carried out by your government with your money, you’re going to need deep pockets,” said Neas.
“It’s clear that this is just the latest tactic in the Justice Department’s ongoing effort to hide information from the American public, particularly about ‘secret’ legal proceedings for immigrants held for months and sometimes years in the wake of the terrorist attacks,” said Neas. “In decades of public advocacy, we’ve never been asked to provide fees of this magnitude. They’re clearly setting up new barriers to the release of information that ought to be made public immediately. It begs the question: What are they hiding?”
PFAWF first made the FOIA request November 25, 2003. It was denied by the Justice Department on the grounds of privacy in December, 2003. PFAWF contested the decision in a lawsuit filed in August, 2004. Only after the lawsuit was filed did Justice Department officials decide to ask for the records from U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country. The department then concocted an estimate of $372,999 for the request, and asked for advance payment in a letter sent January 11, 2005. PFAWF has until February 10 to respond.
“The Freedom of Information Act was intended to give American citizens and the news media access to records that will help them protect their rights and see how the tremendous power of the government is being used. It’s especially important under one-party rule,” sad Neas. “We’re going to fight this outrageous demand.”