FOIA Advisor

FOIA News (2019)

FOIA News: USCIS Expands FIRST: A Fully Digital FOIA System

FOIA News (2019)Kevin SchmidtComment

USCIS Expands FIRST: A Fully Digital FOIA System

Release Date: June 25, 2019

WASHINGTON— USCIS is announcing the expansion of its digital Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Immigration Records System (FIRST). FIRST is the only system in the U.S. government that allows users to submit and track FOIA requests and receive documents digitally. This process will save time, improve efficiency, and reduce potential errors that can occur with manually handling paper.

Starting today, FOIA requestors with a USCIS online account can submit requests online for their own records. Soon, they will be able to submit online requests for non-A-File material (policies, communications, etc.) Later this year, USCIS online account holders can make requests on behalf of another person.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Robert Freeman, renowned public records expert, fired for misconduct

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Advocate Dedicated to Uncovering Government Secrets Is Fired for Sex Harassment

Robert Freeman, a nationally known force for government transparency, engaged in “unwanted physical contact” with a female reporter earlier this year.

By Jesse McKinley, N.Y. Times, June 25, 2019

For more than four decades, Robert J. Freeman was a champion of government transparency in New York.

As the executive director of the Committee on Open Government, he helped offer access to records that the state might have otherwise been happy to shield. But a state investigation revealed he had kept secrets of his own.

On Monday, he was fired after the inquiry showed he had sexually harassed a female reporter and engaged in other inappropriate sexual behavior using his state-owned computer.

Read more here.

[ALB comment: The FOIL godfather foils his career and legacy. Sad.]

FOIA News: New EPA rule could expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests

FOIA News (2019)Kevin SchmidtComment

New EPA rule could expand number of Trump officials weighing in on FOIA requests

By Miranda Green, The Hill, June 25, 2019

More political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could soon have the authority to weigh in on public information requests.

The rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register as early as Wednesday and will not allow for a public comment period.

According to the new language in the FOIA rule signed by EPA chief Andrew Wheeler last week, the administrator and other officials would be allowed to review all materials that fit a FOIA request criteria, known as responsive documents, and then decide “whether to release or withhold a record or a portion of a record on the basis of responsiveness or under one or more exemptions under the FOIA, and to issue ‘no records’ responses.”

Read more here.

[Note: An early version of this story mischaracterized the scope of the new rule and misstated some of the authorities that come with it.]

FOIA News: OIP Statement on SCOTUS Decision

FOIA News (2019)Kevin SchmidtComment

SUPREME COURT ISSUES DECISION ON EXEMPTION 4 OF THE FOIA

Today the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Food Mktg. Inst. v. Argus Leader Media, 139 S. Ct. 915 (2019), which examines the definition of the term confidential for applying Exemption 4 of the FOIA.  The Court’s decision overturns the definition of confidential established over forty years ago in Nat’l Parks & Conservation Ass'n v. Morton, 498 F.2d 765 (D.C. Cir. 1974).  The Court’s opinion can be found here.  

As with all significant FOIA developments, OIP will issue guidance and provide training on the impact of this decision.  Please be sure to continue following us on FOIA Post for announcements on when guidance is issued and training opportunities are offered.  In the meantime, agencies are always welcome to seek advice through OIP’s FOIA Counselor Service.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Reaction to SCOTUS Ruling on Exemption 4

FOIA News (2019)Kevin SchmidtComment

FOIA News: SCOTUS strikes down D.C. Circuit's Exemption 4 test

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Supreme Court limits access to government records in loss for Argus Leader, part of the USA TODAY Network

Jonathan Ellis & Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, June 24, 2019

The Supreme Court limited public and media access to government records Monday by expanding a federal law's definition of what can be deemed confidential.

At issue was whether confidentiality, as used in a section of the Freedom of Information Act, means anything intended to be kept secret or only information likely to cause harm if publicized. The high court adopted the broader definition.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the 6-3 decision, with Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.

Read more here.

Copy of decision here.

[ALB comment: Bad result, correct decision. Congress should amend the statute]

FOIA News: Interior IG asked to investigate FOIA program

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Green groups ask Interior watchdog to investigate agency's public records policies

By Miranda Green, The Hill, June 17, 2019

A number of conservation groups are asking the Interior Department’s internal watchdog to investigate reports that political appointees are improperly interfering in the release of public records.

Two separate complaints filed Monday by Earthjustice and the Campaign for Accountability say officials are using an "awareness review" policy to unlawfully delay the release of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and demand Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) look into the situation.

Earthjustice’s letter, dated June 14, claims the department's FOIA process "has been subject to political interference by political appointees and non-career staff" since 2017.

Read more here.