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FOIA News: A new requester's (long) read on the FOIA process

FOIA News (2017)Allan BlutsteinComment

My Journey to the Heart of the FOIA Request

Fifty years ago, the Freedom of Information Act gave the public access to government secrets — all you had to do was ask.  How a simple request became a bureaucratic nightmare.

By Spenser Mestel, Longread, Sept. 2017

* * * *

The executive branch currently employs over 4,000 full-time employees to receive, process, and fulfill FOIA requests. To better understand the costs involved in maintaining such a massive bureaucracy, I decided a few months ago to submit requests for information about spending on FOIA fulfillment to the 14 offices of the most requested department: the Department of Homeland Security, which in 2016 received 325,780 FOIA requests. Expecting a maze of arcane terms, legal citations, and byzantine postal requirements, I gave myself a few hours. When I visited FOIA.gov, though, I found an FAQ section complete with videos, a primer on how to file a request, and a full directory of government agencies. On the directory page, when I clicked the logo for the DHS, a drop-down menu appeared giving the names of its component offices, and I chose the first one listed, the Headquarters and Privacy Office. Up popped the corresponding FOIA officer’s name, mailing address, phone and fax numbers, and email address, which I copied into Gmail. Then I was stuck.

Read more here.

Court opinion issued Sept. 20, 2017

Court Opinions (2017)Allan BlutsteinComment

Lindsey v. FBI (D.D.C.) -- denying without prejudice agency's Glomar response concerning request for records of interaction between government and Imad Hage, because FBI interpreted request too narrowly, Mr. Hage publicly acknowledged (to some degree) his contacts with U.S. officials, and agency failed to acknowledge any public interest in subject matter of request.

Summaries of all opinions issued since April 2015 available here

 

FOIA News: FOIA lawsuits a threat to our democracy, opines watchdog

FOIA News (2017)Ryan MulveyComment

Op-Ed: FOIA lawsuits a threat to our democracy, insult to our time

Chris Krug, Watchdog.org, Sept. 21, 2017

Let’s talk about time, if only for a moment so as not to waste too much of yours.

More precious than gold, more fleeting than beauty, nobody who’s living a life worth living has an excess of time. Whether it is God, family, work or community, we’re allocating our time to things that further the American way.

So I don’t flinch when I read stories about low attendance – or no attendance – at community board meetings, legislative hearings or any other kind of governmental activities that legacy media outlets rag on the public for not showing up to watch it.

We the people, well, we’ve got other things going on. We simply do not have the hours in a day to be present to watch government work (or not work). We trust that it is functioning, but verification is a must.

Read more here.

Court opinions issued Sept. 19, 2017

Court Opinions (2017)Allan BlutsteinComment

Hall v. DOJ (D.D.C.) -- ruling that; (1) DEA, ATF, and Criminal Division performed reasonable searches for records concerning plaintiff; (2) plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to request to Bureau of Prisons; and (3) Executive Office for United States Attorneys failed to indicate how agency responded to request re-directed to it from Criminal Division.

Murray v. Shulkin (D.D.C.) -- dismissing FOIA and Privacy Act case because: (1) Department of Veterans Affairs fully disclosed plaintiff's claim file; and (2) plaintiff failed to identify documents that agency allegedly falsified, and plaintiff failed to request amendment of such document prior to bringing lawsuit.

Summaries of all opinions issued since April 2015 available here

Court opinions issued Sept. 18, 2017

Court Opinions (2017)Allan BlutsteinComment

Bloche v. DOD (D.D.C.) -- finding that Air Force properly relied on Exemption 5 to withhold certain (but not all) disputed records pertaining to federal government's use of interrogation tactics designed and implemented by medical professionals.

Wilson v. DOJ (D.D.C.) -- concluding that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives performed reasonable search for certain records pertaining to plaintiff's criminal case.

Summaries of all opinions issued since April 2015 available here

FOIA News: Oral argument scheduled in FOIA lawsuit for release of draft Clinton indictment

FOIA News (2017)Ryan MulveyComment

Push to unseal the draft Whitewater indictment against Hillary Clinton gets court date

Teresa Welsh, McClatchy DC, Sept. 20, 2017

A federal appeals court will hear a case brought by Judicial Watch on Friday to make public draft indictments of Hillary Clinton from the Whitewater scandal in the 1990s.

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that files Freedom of Information Act requests, wants copies of the documents that the National Archives and Records Administration has declined to release. It filed a FOIA request for the documents in March 2015 and in October 2015 the group sued for the 238 pages of responsive records.

Read more here.

Judicial Watch's press release available here.