Time to Review and Consolidate FOIA Exemptions?


Watchdog.org recently reported that Virginia Delegate Jim LeMunyon has filed a resolution that would charge Virginia’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council (which advises state officials and the public on FOIA-related issues) with reviewing each exemption and deciding which exemptions should be eliminated. The Virginia Freedom of Information Act currently has more than 100 exemptions, and the list grows with each legislative session.

“Bills are passed, and usually, they’re very specific in terms of making a change to an exemption or adding an exemption,” LeMunyon told Watchdog.org. “And what this [review] does is it gives the FOIA council a chance to step back and say, ‘well, do all of these exemptions in their entirety really make sense? Or has government become too closed?’”

The council conducted a similar review in 1999, but government has become much more dependent on technology since then and a lot of government processes have changed. “Some of these exemptions for whatever reason might become out of date or obsolete, so it gives us a chance to look at that,” LeMunyon said. “Because the way government operates changes over time like everything else.”

Exemptions are constantly being added to freedom of information laws, whether at the federal or state/local level. Some transparency advocates argue that exemptions are antithetical to the idea of transparency, as they allow agencies to shield information rather than provide it and that there should be fewer exemptions rather than more each year.

What do you think of Virginia Delegate LeMunyon’s plan to review Virginia’s exemption codes and look for ways to combine or eliminate redundant or out of date exemptions? Should an exemption “health check” become a standard practice for all freedom of information legislation every few years?