Impact of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts on Law Enforcement Agencies

Gao ID: GGD-78-108 November 15, 1978

In the past 5 years, the Congress has enacted legislation to control and provide public access to the vast amount of information collected, maintained, and disseminated by the Federal Government. The Congress intended this legislation to provide openness in Government activities and to protect individual privacy.

Federal and local law enforcement officials say that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Privacy Act, and similar laws are eroding their investigative capabilities, especially in the area of intelligence gathering. They believe that the acts are a financial and administrative burden; inhibit their ability to collect information from the general public, informants, and institutions; and diminish the quality and quantity of information exchanged with other law enforcement agencies. Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Secret Service officials indicate that the legislation is forcing them into a reactive rather than a preventive role and say that the total effect of these laws will not be realized until some time in the future. Officials at other agencies are concerned about the erosion of their investigative capabilities because of the amount of resources needed to comply with FOIA and Privacy Act requirements and the type of requesters benefiting from the acts' provisions. (RRS)

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