FOIA Rundown: Ferguson's ongoing stonewall, majority favors release of CIA torture report, and more

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This post is adapted from CJ Ciaramella's weekly Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

Ferguson's ongoing stonewall

The AP's Jack Gillum reports that Ferguson officials are using the tried and true method of charging exorbitant fees to discourage news orgs and individuals from pursuing records requests:

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Ferguson told the AP it wanted nearly $2,000 to pay a consulting firm for up to 16 hours of work to retrieve messages on its own email system, a practice that information technology experts call unnecessary. The firm, St. Louis-based Acumen Consulting, wouldn't comment specifically on Ferguson's contract, but said the search could be more complicated and require technicians to examine tape backups.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a public records lawsuit days after the shooting for Brown-related police reports, but ultimately received a censored report that omitted officers' names and other details usually released in such documents.

Over at VICE News, Jason Leopold and Alice Speri dig more into Ferguson's transparency failures. Besides the public records stonewalling, there are also missing use-of-force reports and other incident reports redacted to the point of being useless.

"If transparency is meant to be the foundation on which Ferguson's mostly white officials and police hope to rebuild their relationship with their disillusioned and mostly black constituency," VICE News writes, "the relationship's prospects aren't looking so great."


  • ACLU wins partial victory in suit to disclose cell-phone tracking techniques. " U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elana James ordered release of at least 53 pages of documents that describe electronic tracking devices and cellular telephone information, including mobile tracking such as GPS and cell site simulators such as IMSI catchers, digital analyzers or triggerfish.  James rejected the government’s argument that the techniques were not generally known to the public and, if disclosed, could be used by potential law violators to evade detection and thus should be withheld on that basis." Decision here.
  • Washington Times investigative journalist Audrey Hudson reaches $50K settlement with Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Coast Guard agents raided Hudson's house in Aug. 2013 and confiscated her reporting notes.  “The important thing about this settlement is that we did not let the government’s invasion of my privacy stand,” Hudson said. “We defended the rights of journalists to protect their sources from discovery by government security agencies, and that’s a victory for all journalists.”
  • Cause of Action wins FOIA lawsuit, judge rejects Treasury IG's Glomar response to request for docs on investigation into former White House econ adviser Austan Goolsbee. Read the decision here
  • Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain files FOIA lawsuit against U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Everyone wants the CIA torture report released: A PPP poll found large, bipartisan support for releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's now-discontinued interrogation and rendition program. Key findings: "69% of voters think the Senate Intelligence Committee should release its report on the interrogation and detention of terrorism suspects after 9/11, compared to only 22% who don’t think the report should be made public. This is a rare issue in these polarized times where voters are pretty much in agreement across party lines: 71% of independents, 69% of Democrats, and 67% of Republicans think the report should be made public."

IRS flubs FOIA Compliance: "In a review of IRS compliance with the Freedom of Information Act released Thursday, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reported the agency 'was not consistent in its service to individuals who requested information under the FOIA/Privacy Act.' Full IG report here.

Redaction of the week, courtesy of the CIA:

As Steven Aftergood writes, redacting the price of the CIA's first Amiga is kind of silly.

Pretty Please?asks to destroy emails of non-senior agency officials.

Transparency groups press White House on FOIA delays: From my report at the Free Beacon: "In a letter to the White House released Monday, 25 transparency organizations said the Obama administration’s policy of reviewing FOIA requests that contain so-called 'White House equities' has 'caused significant confusion and delay among agencies in their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.'"

Interesting article on FOIA tech from NextGov

Last year, federal agencies received a total of 704,394 FOIA requests, with more than 230,000 going to the Department of Homeland Security alone.

The Transportation Department took in 10,552 requests in 2013, with most -- 6,650 -- going to the Federal Aviation Administration and its 18 full-time FOIA employees, according to a request for information about FOIA systems on the market.

To process its requests, Transportation relied on 11 separate FOIA operations running simultaneously. Six used a FOIA-tracking software system developed within the department, one used a separate in-house system, two used store-bought systems, one used a jerry-rigged correspondence system and one just uses Excel spreadsheets, according to solicitation documents posted earlier this year.

Documents of Note:

  • ACLU nabs new docs on Executive Order 12333. "The documents confirm our suspicions that the NSA relies heavily on EO 12333 and that the order, therefore, deserves far more scrutiny than it has received.
  • Justice Department FOIA logs for 2009, 2010, 2011.
  • KQED: 'More than half of those killed by San Francisco police are mentally ill'

Meanwhile ...

The Chicago PD has denied my FOIA request for all officer-involved shootings in the last two years saying it would be "unduly burdensome."

— jg (@JustinGlawe) September 30, 2014


  • Massachusetts doubles down on 1033 program secrecy. "While almost seventy percent of states have turned over the agency-by-agency data, Mass is in the sad minority of holdouts - leaving several huge items unaccounted for."
  • Muckrock is crowdfunding a request for more info on the Doraville SWAT team's infamous promotional video.
  • Washington officials wondering what to do about serial FOI requesters. "Snohomish County official urged members of a legislative committee to explore avenues of relief, citing the case of one resident who she said uses the Public Records Act as a "'weapon of retaliation and a weapon of harassment.'"

Subscribe to CJ Ciaramella's weekly FOIA newsletter here.

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