The federal Freedom of Information Act was supposed to be a torch that journalists, advocates and ordinary people could use to cast a light on the operations of their government.
It's profoundly disappointing to see the Obama administration proposing changes to FOIA that would allow federal agencies to lie about the very existence of information being sought.
That's not progress, and it's certainly not transparency, a principle the president has repeatedly and publicly pledged allegiance to.
We hope the U.S. Department of Justice backs away from these and other FOIA rule revisions it has proposed.
The worst among them, in our estimation, is the proposed change that would allow the government to tell those requesting information under FOIA that the material does not exist when, in fact, it does.
The change would apply to certain law enforcement or national security documents.
Currently, the government can issue what is called a Glomar response, which is when the government neither confirms nor denies the existence of the material.
That term was coined after a Los Angeles Times reporter in the mid-1970s attempted to obtain information about the CIA's Glomar Explorer, a vessel built to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
Moving from a Glomar denial to outright deceit would have even broader ramifications if the person denied information were to decide to take the matter to court.
In that case, would the government be in a position of lying to the court about the existence of information? That's dangerous territory.
"What's more, the change seems unnecessary," said Mark Hamrick, an Associated Press journalist who is president of the National Press Club, in a prepared statement.
"If agencies are exercising legally allowable exceptions to the law and withholding certain records, they can just continue to do as they do today: neither confirm nor deny the information's existence," Hamrick said.
From the moment FOIA was signed into law in 1966, there was government resistance to disclosure of information.
President Lyndon Johnson grudgingly agreed to sign the bill, but did so with a companion signing statement that was designed to weaken the measure.
The relative strength of the act has waxed and waned over the years with amendments and procedural changes. Yet it remains a potent tool for citizens to learn about what their government is up to.
We hope the Obama administration respects the intent of FOIA and declines to undercut it by giving official sanction to government deceit about whether information exists.