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Tech Industry

Getting lobbyists to come clean

Internet attorney Eric J. Sinrod says a new Web site will improve access to information about foreign agents working in the United States.

    The National Security Division of the Department of Justice recently announced the launch of the enhanced Foreign Agent Registration Act Web site. The site claims to improve access to public information about foreign agents and their activities within the United States.

    Why is this important? Congress passed the FARA to cast light on foreign participation in attempts to influence the laws, policy and public opinion of the United States. Enacted in 1938 as a response to German propaganda prior to World War II, it is a public disclosure statute that requires all persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasipolitical function to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal. It also requires them to disclose the activities, disbursements and receipts supporting the relationship.

    According to the National Security Division, the updated FARA Web site provides greater public access to documents and other information regarding 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 only could be obtained by contacting the FARA Registration Unit or by visiting the FARA office in Washington.

    Now 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 was designed to provide an intuitive method for locating individual records and related documents. Once a document is located, it can be downloaded and printed in PDF. 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 semiannual reports to Congress, and access to FARA registration forms for filing purposes.

    The updated site can be accessed at the FARA Web site.

    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. How? By making sure that the public and lawmakers understand the foreign source of information intended to influence laws, policy and public opinion.

    Better access to information helps support that purpose, recognized by Congress seven decades ago when it enacted the FARA.