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Gonzales Says Would Review FOIA Guidelines

July 26, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he would reconsider his predecessor’s guidance that has restricted public access to government information since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

``I’m always happy to reconsider decisions relating to the release of information,″ Gonzales said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said Congress has given the government authority to withhold certain information ``and if we don’t believe it should be released, we don’t have to release it.″

During the Clinton administration, federal agencies were urged to resolve Freedom of Information Act requests by erring on the side of releasing, not withholding, government information. In October 2001, former Attorney General John Ashcroft changed that policy. His memo required federal agencies to carefully consider national security, law enforcement concerns and personal privacy before releasing information. Ashcroft assured agencies that the Justice Department would defend their decisions not to release information.

Gonzales said he would take another look at the guidance.

``Congress has determined that certain information can be protected under certain exemptions under FOIA. And so we’re simply taking action consistent with what Congress has determined is good policy. But I’m always happy to look to see, you know, internal guidance.″

``I’ll go back and look at it,″ he said.

More than 4 million FOIA requests were made to the federal government last year from the public and the media. Many requests drag on without resolution for years.

President Bush said last spring he would look at ways to speed FOIA responses, acknowledging there is ``suspicion″ his administration is too security-conscious.

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