How some recent FOIA news could help—and limit—access to government records
By Jonathan Peters, Columbia Journalism Rev., July 25, 2016
IF NOTHING WORTH HAVING COMES EASY, then freedom of information must be worth a lot. A recent FOIA reform promises to improve access to public records, and a federal appeals court decision this month made clear that agencies cannot shield their records from disclosure by storing them in a private email account—each a sign of progress. But other recent developments point toward the enduring challenge of empowering “citizens to know what their Government is up to,” as the Supreme Court once said.
In a story last week, ProPublica reporters told “aneurysm-inducing tales of protracted jousting with the public records offices of government agencies.” Jesse Eisinger, for example, said the SEC once told him that it would take 36 months to begin processing a request he filed, and Julia Angwin said it took an agency two years to fulfill (partially) one of her requests—by mailing the records to the wrong person, who herself had been waiting years for a response from the same agency. The tales paint an ugly portrait of a press and public that too often struggle to wrest documents from government control.
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