Attorney General William French Smith announced new guidelines easing requirements for federal agencies to release information requested by the public under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a memo to federal departments and agencies, Mr. Smith said he was lifting a 1977 requirement by former Attorney General Griffin Bell that agencies release requested information exempted from disclosure unless "demonstrable harm" would result.
"The Department of Justice supports the goal of the original act to inform the public regarding the operation of its government without frustrating the performance of vital government functions," he said. "The principal purpose of the new guidelines is to permit government agencies, consistent with the legal requirements of the act, to fashion their own release policies."
A Justice Department spokesman also said the department will undertake a review of the act, "with an eye toward proposing amendments that would correct some of the provisions of the law that have led to abuses in the areas of law enforcement, intelligence, etc."
Jack Landau, of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the new policy "encourages cover-ups, bureaucratic delays, and unnecessary secrecy. It stands in opposition to the whole congressional thrust of the FOI Act and the underlying principle that the public is entitled to know as much as possible about how the government operates."