FOIA Advisor

FOIA News (2019)

FOIA News: DOJ's Civil Division complains about FOIA requests

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Watchdogs Use FOIA as a ‘Weapon,’ Justice Department Complains

The memo acknowledges a salient fact: There are more people than ever taking it upon themselves to inform the general public about the activities of the U.S. government.

By Lachlan Markay, Daily Beast, May 16, 2019

The Department of Justice complained in early 2018 that nonprofit good-government groups were weaponizing federal open-records laws, according to a memo obtained, appropriately enough, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“A host of government watchdog groups now essentially seek to use FOIA requests and related litigation as a weapon in the political and advocacy process,” reads the memo, authored by the DOJ’s civil division, which is charged with defending the government in FOIA lawsuits.

Read more here (subscription required)

FOIA News: Spanberger-related docs released

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Closing the Book on Spanberger’s SF-86

By Evan Kielar & Scott R. Anderson, Lawfare, May 13, 2019

Last year, one of us filed a “meta-FOIA” request with Benjamin Wittes seeking information on how former CIA officer and then-congressional candidate (now congresswoman) Abigail Spanberger’s unredacted SF-86 form was released in response to a right-wing advocacy group’s FOIA request. We petitioned both the National Archives and Records Administrations (NARA) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), each of which had played a role in the release.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Identity of U.S. Attorney's lover to remain secret

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

BuzzFeed Won't Seek ID Of Subordinate In Affair With US Atty

Law360, May 8, 2019

BuzzFeed has agreed not to push for the federal government to reveal the identity of a subordinate  who had an affair with a U.S. attorney, signing off on a proposed settlement in New York federal court in which only the top official's name would be released.

Read more here (accessible with free trial subscription),

FOIA News: NY AG sues Treasury for non-profit guidance

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

New York attorney general sues Trump Treasury, IRS

By Naomi Jagoda , The Hill, May 6, 2019

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and IRS, arguing that the agencies have failed to respond to information requests about their guidance reducing donor disclosure requirements for certain tax-exempt groups.

"My office depends on these critical donor disclosure forms to be able to adequately oversee non-profit organizations in New York," said James, who filed the suit alongside New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D).

Read more here.

FOIA News: DOJ experimenting with artificial intelligence for FOIA requests

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

DOJ exploring artificial intelligence to help process FOIA requests

By David Thornton, Fed. News Network, May 3, 2019  

Though the data has yet to be released, Melanie Pustay, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), expects 2018 was another record-breaking year for Freedom of Information Act requests. That means additional burdens on FOIA staff governmentwide, greater difficulty in reducing existing backlogs, and an interest in new ways of handling the increasing demand.

“I’m certainly expecting there to be even more FOIA requests for fiscal year [2018] than the year before,” Pustay said on Agency in Focus – Justice Department. “Certainly our trend line has been ever increasing numbers of requests; the public just seems like they can’t get enough of government information. And obviously it’s a great thing. On the one hand, we love to see people engage, but the challenge for agencies is keeping up with the demand.”

Read more here.

FOIA News: More on SCOTUS Exemption 4 case

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Argument analysis: Justices appear likely to endorse broader reading of FOIA exemption for “confidential” commercial information

By Mark Fenster, SCOTUSblog, Apr. 23, 2019

An observer might be excused if she was confused by Monday’s oral argument in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. The case concerns the application of the term “confidential” commercial or financial information in Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act to grocery-store data collected from transactions involving debit cards issued to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits recipients. A South Dakota newspaper had requested the data as part of its investigations into the SNAP program. FOIA cases typically inspire at least gestural exhortations about the necessity of an informed public and the danger that excessive governmental disclosure poses to the nation. Instead, the justices first spent a fair amount of time on complex justiciability issues that arose late in the litigation and then focused on dry questions of statutory interpretation. This was in part the product of the factual and procedural issues in this case, but it suggests that the court may follow the lead of 2011’s Milner v. Department of Navy and reverse purpose-driven lower-court interpretations of FOIA in favor of statutory textualism.

Read more here.

FOIA News: SCOTUS hears Exemption 4 case

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Supreme Court leans toward restricting access to business data

Justices heard arguments on Monday in the case, which pits business groups against news organizations and open-government advocates.

By Josh Gerstein, Politico, Apr. 22, 2019

The Supreme Court appears headed for a ruling that could dramatically restrict access to federal government records with details about private businesses.

Justices heard arguments on Monday in the case, which pits business groups against news organizations and open-government advocates.

The Trump administration has allied itself with the business groups seeking to overturn an appeals court precedent that has allowed the release of business-provided data for nearly half a century. Media outlets and transparency advocates have pushed back against the effort, warning that reining in access to such information could eliminate public scrutiny of an untold number of federal databases and other records about highly regulated, potentially dangerous industries.

Read more here.