October 12, 2001
MEMORANDUM FOR HEADS OF ALL FEDERAL DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
FROM: John Ashcroft, Attorney General
SUBJECT: The Freedom of Information Act
As you know, the Department of Justice and this Administration are committed to full
compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2000). It is only
through a well-informed citizenry that the leaders of our nation remain accountable to the
governed and the American people can be assured that neither fraud nor government waste is
The Department of Justice and this Administration are equally committed to protecting
other fundamental values that are held by our society. Among them are safeguarding our national
security, enhancing the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive
business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy.
Our citizens have a strong interest as well in a government that is fully functional and
efficient. Congress and the courts have long recognized that certain legal privileges ensure
candid and complete agency deliberations without fear that they will be made public. Other
privileges ensure that lawyers' deliberations and communications are kept private. No leader can
operate effectively without confidential advice and counsel. Exemption 5 of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(b)(5), incorporates these privileges and the sound policies underlying them.
I encourage your agency to carefully consider the protection of all such values and
interests when making disclosure determinations under the FOIA. Any discretionary decision by
your agency to disclose information protected under the FOIA should be made only after full and
deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests that could
be implicated by disclosure of the information.
In making these decisions, you should consult with the Department of Justice's Office of
Information and Privacy when significant FOIA issues arise, as well as with our Civil Division
on FOIA litigation matters. When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold
records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your
decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact
on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records.
This memorandum supersedes the Department of Justice's FOIA Memorandum of
October 4, 1993, and it likewise creates no substantive or procedural right enforceable at law.
Go to: DOJ FOIA Page // DOJ Home Page