July Fourth marks 50th anniversary of Freedom of Information Act

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into the law the landmark federal Freedom of Information Act on the Fourth of July. President Barack Obama on Thursday signed an update to the law, adding new transparency measures.

A reluctant Johnson signed the original legislation July 4, 1966, without fanfare. News Industry leaders and members of both parties in Congress had pressed for the law, which took effect in 1967.

Johnson’s  signing statement distributed to news reporters in San Antonio who were covering the president during a Texas trip shows toned down commentary by Johnson about the law, according to the document, provided by the LBJ Presidential Library.

Yet, FOIA was watershed legislation that has allowed public access to volumes of federal records the past five decades. It has been updated several times, including this year in legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. Congress passed the FOIA improvement bill in June calling for a “presumption of openness” in the law and sent that legislation to Obama, who signed it Thursday.