An article recently published in the Navy Times stated that the Air Force and National Guard may be in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The Air Force directive requires that all publicly released documents be converted to PDF format or another image based file format. This policy was implemented to ensure that only the “final version of a document be released when requested.” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force Spokeswoman, said “the purpose of this policy was to protect the information that Air Force officials changed or deleted in a document prior to its release.”
FOIA law reads “In making any record available to a person under this paragraph, an agency shall provide the record in any form or format requested by the person if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format.” In addition, there are nine exemptions why a FOIA request may be denied; some of these include Inter Agency Rules and Practices, Trade Secrets, Classified National Defense and Foreign Relations, and Matters of Personal Privacy. However, document version control is not a reason for exemptions according to the FOIA law. Subsequently, the purpose of this directive is unclear.
The National Guard will not admit to how widely this directive is applied but it is their “standard operating procedure.” Other DOD branches such as the Army and The Marine Corps said that they have no such policy in effect. David Oten, a DOD spokesman commented that this has the potential to be controversial and contradictory.
Do you believe that the Air Force and National Guard are indeed in violation of the FOIA? Do you think that their new policy reduces transparency? Can you understand why this new policy was put in place?
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