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“President Obama’s actions today are a triumph for the rule of law,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, calling the move “a critical step toward fixing the damage done to our Constitution over the last eight years.”

Anne Weismann, chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the changes signal “a new era of transparency and accountability that’s been badly missing for eight years.”

“Unlike President Bush, President Obama is not going to be reflexively supporting executive privilege claims of former presidents,” she said, adding that it’s “unprecedented.”

Mr. Obama’s memos encourage all government agencies to use “modern technology” and increase the amount of information shared with the public.

“This is an enormous opportunity to set a tone and to empower hundreds of thousands of federal employees to do the right thing,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who characterized it as a “180-degree turn” from the Bush administration.

Danielle Brien, executive director of the Project for Government Oversight, said the new disclosure rules reverse President Bush’s “presumption of secrecy, and will return us to 20th-century openness.” She said enforcement of the rules could make the Freedom of Information Act a tool of the past.

“It’s particularly important to get these reforms set in stone now before the people in power start to look longingly at the good old days of secrecy,” she said.