Last week there was a surge of excitement surrounding the National Archives’ release of new government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). We thought this might be a good opportunity to join our colleagues in celebrating the release of this new historical material, and explain how the release of these records is distinct from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Last week’s release of records was made under the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. As specified by the law, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) established a special collection of these records, the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection, in November 1992. The collection consists of approximately five million pages of records, the vast majority of which has been publicly available without any restrictions since the late 1990s.
The Act requires that “[e]ach assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full, and available in the Collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of this Act unless the President certifies, as required by this Act, that continued postponement is made necessary by” specific identifiable harm. Critically, Congress specified that the records under the JFK Act be reviewed according to less restrictive standards than those under FOIA. As explained on the National Archives’ webpage of Frequently Asked Questions about the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection, “[t]he grounds for postponement under the JFK Act are much more narrowly drawn than the exemption categories of the FOIA[;] therefore more information has been released under the provisions of the JFK Act than would have been released under the provisions of the FOIA.”
If you are interested in learning more about last week’s release of records and what to expect in the future, we strongly recommend that you read the Archivist’s extremely helpful blog post on AOTUS Blog, “National Archives Releases JFK Assassination Records,” which also includes links to other useful resources on the topic.