The National Security Division of the Department of Justice recently announced the launch and availability of the next generation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) Web site. The enhanced Web site claims to greatly improve access to public information about foreign agents and their activities within the United States.
Why is this important? Congress enacted FARA to cast light on foreign participation in attempts to influence the laws, policy and public opinion of the United States. Passed by Congress back in 1938, FARA is a public disclosure statute that requires all persons acting as foreign principals in a political or quasi-political function to make periodic public disclosure of their connections with foreign principals, in addition to the activities, disbursements and receipts supporting those activities.
According to the National Security Division, the enhanced FARA Web site provides greater public access to documents and other information with respect to foreign agent registrations filed with the FARA Registration Unit - a Unit that is part of the Counterespionage Section of the National Security Division. Previously, these records could only be obtained by contacting the FARA Registration Unit or by visiting the FARA office in Washington, D.C.
Now, according to the NSD, anyone with an Internet connection can access the repository of public documents filed by registered foreign agents. The document search feature of the enhanced site is designed to provide an intuitive method for locating individual records and related documents.
Once a document is located, it is available for access, downloading and printing in PDF format. Furthermore, the search results page can be saved in a spreadsheet format to assist later research. The upgraded site also provides answers to frequently asked questions and contains links to statutes, FARA semi-annual reports to Congress and access to FARA registration forms for filing purposes.
The updated FARA Web site can be accessed at http://www.fara.gov/.
Efforts to improve the site should be applauded, as there is significant value in public transparency when it comes to foreign-based lobbying. Indeed, the underlying purpose of the FARA is to protect the national defense, internal security and foreign relations of the United States by ensuring that the American public and law makers understand the foreign source of information intended to influence the laws, policy and public opinion of the United States.
Better access to information helps to support that purpose, as recognized by Congress seven decades ago when it enacted the FARA.