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A watchdog group sued the Justice Department on Thursday to compel officials to turn over records from a database on foreign lobbyists, which the department said would overwhelm its computer system. A lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity said in the lawsuit that the information sought is “readily reproducible in electronic form.” The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also asked the judge to award the group its attorney’s fees. A Justice Department spokesman, Charles Miller, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Since January, the group has sought information about lobbying activities that is available under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 law passed in response to German propaganda before World War II. Database records describe details of meetings among foreign lobbyists, the administration and Congress, and payments by foreign governments and some overseas groups for political advertisements and other campaigns. The Justice Department previously told the center that it could not provide the records before the end of the year. Thomas J. McIntyre, chief in the Justice Department’s office for information requests, explained in a May 24 letter that the computer system — operated in the counterespionage section of the department’s criminal division — “was not designed for mass export of all stored images” and said the system experiences “substantial problems.” The government said an overhaul of the system should be finished by December, and copies should be available then. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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