Governments should not have a lying policy

It’s not acceptable for the government to lie.

The end doesn’t justify the means is another way to look at it.

The federal government wants to tell the public certain records don’t exist when they really do. For example, the government cites cases involving criminal investigations, protecting the identities of informants, foreign intelligence, counterintelligence and international terrorism.

The issue has arisen because the Justice Department has proposed revised regulations that codify a policy detailed in a 1987 memo by former Attorney General Edwin Meese. In other words, the feds have been lying about certain records for at least a couple decades.

The feds fear that suspects could file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn whether they are under criminal investigation or to gain sensitive information.

The public has the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulation now.

It is a difficult problem for the feds and the public alike. The public doesn’t want investigations or sensitive information compromised. But it doesn’t make lying the solution.

The feds would be better to respond to requests for such information with “if any such records exist, they will be released at the appropriate time,” and then define “appropriate” as when the release of the information won’t compromise investigations, personal safety and national security.

That might be too simple for a problem more complex than has been described. But the Justice Department should make more of an effort to retain its integrity and respond to the public honestly.

After all, it doesn’t want the public lying to its investigators.

It’s one thing to lie. It’s something else to say that our policy is to lie. That might be the sad fact, but let’s not codify it.

11/23/2011 - 12:03pm