FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

November 21, 2014 5:19 PM

Although the Homeland Security Department pledged three years ago to steadily reduce backlogged Freedom of Information Act requests, the number has risen even higher, congressional investigators said.

DHS made some progress by the end of fiscal 2012 to reduce the backlog, but the numbers have risen to more than 50,000 in fiscal 2013, an increase of more than 9,000 since 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office report (pdf) released Nov. 19.

Overall, the department and its component agencies reported processing more than 200,000 FOIA requests in 2013, more than any other federal agency. It also had the most backlogged requests, more than half the total 95,000 backlogged requests across the federal government. Continue>>>

======

November 21, 2014 11:22 AM

The ACLU is filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today for information about a newly revealed Marshals Service program that uses aircraft to suck up location data from tens of thousands of people’s cell phones at a time.

The U.S. Marshals Service program, exposed last week by the Wall Street Journal, involves Cessna planes equipped with “cell site simulators” flying from at least five airports around the country. Cell site simulators, also called IMSI catchers, impersonate a wireless service provider’s cell tower, prompting cell phones and other wireless devices to communicate with them instead of the nearest tower. In doing do so, the simulators can learn all sorts of information that facilitates accurate location tracking, including the electronic serial numbers and other information about the phone and the direction and strength of the phone’s signal.

The government apparently calls cell site simulators deployed on airplanes “DRT boxes” or “dirtboxes”, after their manufacturer, Digital Receiver Technology, Inc. (DRT). (Other cell site simulator models, produced by Harris Corporation, are the “Stingray," “Triggerfish,” “Kingfish,” and “Hailstorm”). Continue>>>
======

November 18, 2014 11:10 AM

Today marks the seven-month anniversary of my oldest outstanding public records request, so please indulge me in some ventilation. Back on April 14, before the snow of last winter melted, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Today, snow once more whitens the ground, and I'm still waiting.

I have asked for the following: Records relating to the "troubled" designation granted to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the City of Mound, as well as the most recent list of troubled housing authorities nationwide. I had noticed Mound's name as the only Minnesota public housing authority on this list, so I thought this request would be a simple matter.

Silly me. Continue>>>

======
 

November 3, 2014 1:35 PM

When High Country News began using the Freedom of Information Act to gather official reports of threats against federal employees in the West, we didn't expect that the main obstacle would arise in one federal agency's headquarters.

Our intention was positive: By examining and summarizing the incidents, we hoped to ease tensions and encourage more respect for the federal employees as they go about their duties in the field.

So we were surprised by the poor performance of the Bureau of Land Management's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office in Washington, D.C. Its response to our request for public records can only be described as dysfunctional. Continue>>>
======
 

September 8, 2014 8:13 AM

Late last month, I found myself pleading with a U.S. Army FOIA specialist. How can you have no records for my request? My FOIA request for records of debarred contractor was three months old at this point, and my call to the FOIA Public Liaison (if that's really what he was) had succeeded in prompting some movement by the Army. But this wasn't what I was expecting.

On Aug. 25, I got a letter pronouncing the final word on my May 20 request. No records exist. How could that be possible, I wondered.

Two days later, before I had a chance to start hyperventilating again, I got an email from another branch of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency. This time, it came with a 50-page PDF, with most names redacted, of course, but featuring enough information to piece together why this individual ended up on the federal government's list of individuals and companies barred from federal contracts. Continue>>>
======

June 16, 2014 7:42 AM

As an attorney, you have a duty to do an adequate investigation before asserting any claim, but your investigation can’t intrude on others’ privacy rights. Getting public record information is one way to get what you need without a privacy problem. But what if the information isn’t available online or through a visit to a federal agency? Make a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 USC §552) generally provides that any person has a right of access to federal agency records. Virtually every document generated by a federal agency is available to the public in one form or another unless specifically exempted from disclosure.

Getting information you need under the FOIA is a relatively straightforward process: Continue>>>
======

FOIA request
May 27, 2014 9:38 AM

Lately I’ve been on something of a public records binge. I asked for records about my license plate reader data from local law enforcement agencies. I asked for complaint records from the Federal Trade Commission about a sketchy Bitcoin mining hardware maker. A few more requests are still pending.

And last summer, I asked United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency for my travel records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Recently, I got an answer back—sort of.

As someone who enters and exits the country with some decent regularity, I figured there had to be some records. Specifically here’s what I requested: Continue>>>
======
 

March 1, 2014 1:11 AM

A public policy research and information group has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over claims that it has denied its Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information on incidents involving nuclear weapons, nuclear components or radioactive material.

The organization, called Speaking Truth to Power, filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Feb. 27 naming as defendants the U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Air Force Combat Command, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff and U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration.

The suit seeks the release of records of events identified as “Bent Spear” or “Dull Sword,” which are incidents the plaintiff maintains are public under Defense Department’s directives. Continue>>>
======

February 12, 2014 5:55 AM

WASHINGTON — Since last year’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s massive communications data dragnets, the spy agency has been inundated with requests from Americans and others wanting to know if it has files on them. All of them are being turned down.

The denials illustrate the bind in which the disclosures have trapped the Obama administration. While it has pledged to provide greater transparency about the NSA’s communications collections, the NSA says it cannot respond to individuals’ requests without tipping off terrorists and other targets.

As a result, Americans whose email and telephone data may have been improperly vacuumed up have no way of finding that out by filing open records requests with the agency. Six McClatchy reporters who filed requests seeking any information kept by the NSA on them all received the same response. Continue>>>
======

November 7, 2013 2:22 PM

From Investigative Reporting Workshop: iFOIA, a free online system to create, send and track federal and state records requests, is now up and running. After nearly a year of project development, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) offered iFOIA to Bloomberg News and NPR for beta testing. Since its official release at the Online News Association Conference on Oct. 17, major newsrooms, including The Washington Post, have hosted representatives from the Reporters Committee for tutorials on how this resource can be used effectively by journalists. Emily Grannis from the Reporters Committee stopped by the Workshop today to give our staff an iFOIA briefing.

[...]

iFOIA acts as a cloud service in which journalists can store all of their records requests online, sorted by project. Federal agencies are required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days — at which point iFOIA automatically sends users a reminder that they should have received an answer. Furthermore, the system automatically fills in contact information for federal agencies and saves information for state agencies after those are added by the user. The users also have the option to share state agency contact information with the iFOIA community, while still keeping their requests private.

Visit Investigative Reporting Workshop for more.

======

 

September 18, 2013 11:07 AM

From ars technica: The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) will not be faxing any orders to Five Guys or receiving journalists' Freedom Of Information Act requests anytime soon. According to a report from the FOIA request service MuckRock, the OSD's sole fax machine—the only effective electronic conduit for sending FOIA requests to the Pentagon—is down for the count and won't be replaced until October at the earliest. With the threat of a federal government shutdown looming, it may be longer than that.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) also accepts FOIA requests by snail mail, as well as through a web portal. But the web portal is problematic, to say the least—the site seems to be designed to discourage FOIA submissions and makes it impossible for automated requests to be sent. Just getting an account to log into the system can take a while. And even when the FOIA requests get into the hands of the OSD, there's no guarantee of a speedy reply—the OSD had a backlog last year of over 1,000 requests awaiting processing. (DOD as a whole had over 7,000 FOIA requests hung in the queue.)

Visit ars technica for more.

======

 

July 16, 2013 9:43 AM

From MuckRock:   Jason Leopold has used the Freedom of Information Act to break a number of major stories, from the drugging of Department of Defense detainees to the Biblical justifications the Air Force used for nuclear war to a drawn-out battle with the FBI over Occupy Wall Street documents.

So Jason was a natural for kicking off the return of our Requester's Voice, and he very graciously shared how he got involved in using FOIA in the first place, and what his secret is in shaking documents loose from bureaucracies that seem built to avoid disclosure at all costs (Follow Jason on Twitter and his articles here).

MuckRock: You call yourself a "FOIA terrorist." What does that mean, and why is FOIA such a central part of what you do?

Jason Leopold: Actually, "FOIA terrorist" is the term that was used to describe me by a certain government agency that was apparently annoyed by the number of FOIA requests and appeals I had filed. I found out about it during a phone call with a FOIA analyst (who has since become an important open government source for me) who said he saw an email from his boss that said, "the FOIA terrorist strikes again. We just got two dozen new requests from him." I actually liked the term because it made me feel that I was doing my job and doing it well if it meant I was angering government officials.

See the rest of the interview here.

======

Syndicate content