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DEA Hands MuckRock a $1.4 Million Estimate For Responsive Documents 136

An anonymous reader writes with news about what might be the largest Freedom of Information Act fee yet. "The EFF recently kicked off a contest for the 'most outrageous response to a Freedom of Information Act request' and we already have a frontrunner for the first inaugural 'Foilie.' MuckRock's loose confederation of FOIA rabblerousers has been hit with a $1.4 million price tag for John Dyer's request for documents related to the 'localization and capture' of Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo.'"
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DEA Hands MuckRock a $1.4 Million Estimate For Responsive Documents

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  • [turn snark amplifier up to 11...]

    Yeah, well, freedom isn't free.

    [dial snark amplifier back down to 5]
  • ...Freedom is not free.

    Strat

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2017q4@virtual-estates.net> on Monday February 09, 2015 @03:43PM (#49020649) Homepage Journal

    I hate to even appear to be defending a government agency, but the request was for over 13K case files. $1.4mln divided by 13K comes to about $107 per case. If a lawyer has to (carefully) review each one — such as to black-out parts affecting privacy of innocent or other government secrets — the requested fee may even appear too small.

    As TFA aknowledges:

    This request will have to be narrowed considerably if MuckRock hopes to obtain anything on this subject from the DEA.

    • i would mod this insightful. props

    • Swagging it, 1.4 million implies at least 14 staff attorneys would have to work 12 months.

      At the least, I'd like to see a breakout of the labor estimates. It seems double to quadruple what I would expect.

      • by necro81 ( 917438 )

        Swagging it, 1.4 million implies at least 14 staff attorneys would have to work 12 months

        At the least, I'd like to see a breakout of the labor estimates. It seems double to quadruple what I would expect.

        You think the going rate for a staff attorney is $50/hour ($1.4mil, 14 persons, 2000 hrs/12 mo)? You haven't been around many attorneys, have you? The salary may work out to that (about $100k/yr), but with benefits and overhead, it could easily be double that. Just be lucky that an outside firm doesn

        • The HR rule of thumb for most large companies is an employee cost twice what his salary would be. I.E. it would cost the government $200k/year for each $100k/year salaried employee.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          These would be non-litigating government lawyers, who are paid MUCH less than DC BigLaw lawyers. They are probably GS-12 ($76k - 99k), but maybe GS-13 ($91k - $118k).

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Swagging it, 1.4 million implies at least 14 staff attorneys would have to work 12 months.

        A federal government's staff attorney makes $126K [glassdoor.com] per year on average. (Plus bonuses, benefits, office space and supplies, and a manager.) That's about $1.8 million at least, more likely well over $2million.

        Now, to be able to go through 13000 cases (each with multiple documents), each member of this hypothetical team will need to process 928 cases. How many can they process per day? To finish in the 12 months allotted

        • Possible, but on the optimistic side. As I said, if there is anything wrong with the requested fee, it is too low.

          You are clearly confusing the "new" Slashdot's uninformed and not particularly bright libertarian-esque hivemind with things it doesn't like: facts and cogent analysis. May god have mercy on your soul.

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            confusing the "new" Slashdot's uninformed and not particularly bright libertarian-esque hivemind with things it doesn't like: facts and cogent analysis

            Actually, I find the Libertarian approach to life and government to be the most self-consistent and coherent — with the lowest number of "yes buts", that is.

            If you don't mind descending further off-topic, please, explain, what lead you to believe, Maxo-Texas [slashdot.org] is in any way "libertarian-eqsue"?

        • Now, maybe, as the AC below suggests, the entire government has to keep all of its documents ready for publishing from the moment they are created (with the necessary black-outs specified by each document's very author or his boss) â" and publish them automatically after certain number of years. But that would require an actual dramatic change in how the government bureaucracy operates â" a change well beyond the ability (perhaps, even imagination) of not only the community organizer we've got, but even of a seasoned CEO, who almost replaced him the last time...

          Just to go farther out there 'where no bureaucrat has gone before' so to speak, how about government not collecting and storing so much data of such personal and sensitive nature in the first damned place? Maybe if the government were not involved as deeply and in as many areas as they currently are, this would not be as much of a problem to begin with.

          Strat

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            Just to go farther out there 'where no bureaucrat has gone before' so to speak, how about government not collecting and storing so much data of such personal and sensitive nature in the first damned place?

            Though I agree with you about the government in general, this particular case is about records of criminal prosecution (the "localization and capture" of Mexican drug lord "El Chapo."). Something — one of the very few things, in fact — the government really should be doing.

            A Libertarian like myself would point out, the government has no business banning drugs, because a free citizen ought to remain free to kill/harm himself in any fashion he chooses.

            But if it does ban them and prosecutes peopl

            • by penix1 ( 722987 )

              A Libertarian like myself would point out, the government has no business banning drugs, because a free citizen ought to remain free to kill/harm himself in any fashion he chooses.

              The problem with that line of thinking is when the drug user crosses the line into the rights of others like they so often do. When the drug user commits other crimes to get the drugs up to and including killing innocent people.

              We have a great experiment in Colorado not just economically but socially. I have seen that the legaliz

              • When the drug user commits other crimes to get the drugs up to and including killing innocent people.

                Didn't we have a cool action movie recently denouncing preemptive prosecution? I think, Matt Damon was in it...

                When a drug user commits actual crimes, he ought to be prosecuted for them. Denying the right to pursue happiness to free citizens just in case, is totalitarian and evil.

                We have a great experiment in Colorado not just economically but socially.

                The arguments in Colorado went around cost/benefit anal

            • A Libertarian like myself would point out, the government has no business banning drugs, because a free citizen ought to remain free to kill/harm himself in any fashion he chooses.

              I'm quite sure that there were numerous reasons to prosecute 'El Chapo' [wikipedia.org] for things other than illegal drug dealing. Browsing the wiki page we have murder, torture, bribery, and everything else you'd expect from a drug cartel leader.

              • A Libertarian like myself would point out, the government has no business banning drugs, because a free citizen ought to remain free to kill/harm himself in any fashion he chooses.

                I'm quite sure that there were numerous reasons to prosecute 'El Chapo' [wikipedia.org] for things other than illegal drug dealing. Browsing the wiki page we have murder, torture, bribery, and everything else you'd expect from a drug cartel leader.

                The point being that there would be no illegal drug cartels if there were no illegal drug markets to exploit. "El Chapo" would be just another petty street hoodlum. The US experiment with Prohibition and the rise & fall of the numerous alcohol-smuggling-related gangs during that period and after would seem to bear this out.

                Str

        • by dave562 ( 969951 )

          Now, to be able to go through 13000 cases (each with multiple documents), each member of this hypothetical team will need to process 928 cases. How many can they process per day?

          The relevant metric here is number of documents per case. On average, a trained reviewer is going to do about 2 docs a minute, or 120 docs an hour. Keep in mind, that is for a typical privilege review. They may be able to do it even faster if all they are doing is verifying redactions.

        • I think your information is good. As I said, I was just swagging it. One follow up question...

          Whatever happened to paralegals? I.e. is there no one that any of this work could be farmed out to that is less expensive. I.e. Once the attorney determines references to "Jim Davis" need to be blotted out-- it can be done automatically from there. Once the attorney determines references to personal names should be blotted out- other less expensive government employees could do the work.

          Also consider this:

          Atto

      • If if was quadruple the what you expect then you expect a lawyer to work for $12.50 an hour. That is less than minimum wage in many places. So on average they are charging $107 for each case that needs review. Each case could have hundreds of pages. That seems cheap to me. Maybe the EFF should narrow their request to something more reasonable.

        • $100,000 a year is not "$12.50" an hour. I think you need to check your math.

          Besides legal clerks and junior goverment attorneys make much less than $100,000 per year.

          http://work.chron.com/much-fed... [chron.com]

          "Attorneyâ(TM)s Offices ...as of 2012, an assistant U.S. attorney working for the agency in the Eastern district of California was recruited at a pay range of $54,478 to $144,189 per year.

          Other Agencies
          For attorneys hired under the GS pay scale, those with a law degree received a basic annual salary of $5

          • You didn't read what I was replying to.

            Here is the math. If $1.4 divided by 14 lawyers would be $100k. The poster does not stop there and makes the following statement;

            It seems double to quadruple what I would expect.

            If $100,000 is quadruple what he would expect then he expects $100k/4 or $25k per lawyer to be expected. The $25k/year would work out to about $12.50/hr.

            You also have no idea how lawyers charge out as they need to cover expenses such as insurance, office expenses, staff, etc. Taxes, and medical/retirement benefits and HR costs can double a ne

            • Yes, I assumed it wasn't 14 man years of work for senior government attorneys as part of the swag. Research since then shows plenty of government attorneys making under to well under $100,000 per year.

              That said, I think the counterpoints are good and agreed with some of them on some of the other subthreads. It was a swag intended to elicit conversation and analysis- not simple argument.

              I still think the swag is highly bloated and an "end run" around the freedom of information act. An update on the "if

              • "And if you can't bury them with paperwork, set the price so high they can't afford to request the free information"

                The other side of that is "make unreasonable FOIA requests so that when they require reasonable payments publicize it and make the government look bad". I do not believe $1.4/13,000 = $108 per case file is unreasonable. Perhaps instead of asking for 13,000 case files they could narrow their criteria. I think it is funny that when the government does this to someone it is called a fishing expedition but when an organization doe is to the government it is considered valid.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Seems like instead of having to sort through and process everything afterwards, the government should start just releasing everything as it goes, keeping only things that really have to be secret redacted in the first place. Sounds a lot better than a government created problem letting the government off the hook for transparency.

      • Seems like instead of having to sort through and process everything afterwards, the government should start just releasing everything as it goes, keeping only things that really have to be secret redacted in the first place. Sounds a lot better than a government created problem letting the government off the hook for transparency.

        Only Terrorists* and Child Molesters* want a default-open government!

        Why do you support Terrorists* and Child Molesters*?

        We have to destroy the Free Market*...err...Freedom*...err...Privacy*...err...Rule of Law*...err...Civil Rights*...err...Transparency*, yeah! Transparency*!...in order to Save* it!
        ----
        *-See the most recent Classified government guidelines for the latest official definitions of these terms.

        Strat

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "WE THE PEOPLE" are "the government"... and WE THE PEOPLE want ANSWERS. there are no secrets other than the secret of "the government" betraying their trust to serve "WE THE PEOPLE"... obviously this is what the EFF wants to demonstrate, and what "the government" wants to hide.

      blow it all up.

    • . If a lawyer has to (carefully) review each one â" such as to black-out parts affecting privacy of innocent or other government secrets

      Those documents belong to us, they should be redacted when filed so that we can see them.

      • by N1AK ( 864906 )

        Those documents belong to us, they should be redacted when filed so that we can see them.

        Pretty stupid logic. You're suggesting that the government spend $1.4 million redacting these documents, and hundreds of millions annually redacting all documents that could possibly be requested, in case they are requested, rather than spending the money when someone actually asks for it. You could make a case for arguing the government should be expected to pay the cost of redacting documents that the public are entit

        • by Anonymous Coward

          No, I think the prudent thing to do would be redact the documents and then make them freely available to the public to download. Regardless of whether a request has come in for them.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Those documents belong to us

        They certainly do. And we requested a reasonable fee from somebody, who wanted them.

        they should be redacted when filed so that we can see them

        Yes, I agree with that — and discussed that very idea in a subsequent follow-up [slashdot.org]. Unfortunately, you helped elect the guy, who is the least likely to affect the, dare I say it, change in the federal bureaucracy, that's required to achieve, what you ask for.

        • Unfortunately, you helped elect the guy

          Who told you that? Or are you just making an ass of yourself in the usual fashion?

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      But, but, but... EFF!!!

    • I hate to even appear to be defending a government agency, but the request was for over 13K case files. $1.4mln divided by 13K comes to about $107 per case. If a lawyer has to (carefully) review each one — such as to black-out parts affecting privacy of innocent or other government secrets — the requested fee may even appear too small.

      As TFA aknowledges:

      This request will have to be narrowed considerably if MuckRock hopes to obtain anything on this subject from the DEA.

      I'd rather have my tax money being spent on providing information freely upon request than some of the other ways it is being used.

      If the government is allowed to charge for information, information is not being provided freely.

  • the system is inherently asinine. No one wants paper documents, what they want are the PDF digital documents the DEA cross-reference, index, and search using OCR. But these cant be redacted as easily. Redaction is important in criminal FOIA requests because no government agency wants to get caught sitting on its balls with revelation of massive civil forfeiture and potential constitutional civil rights challenges to their water tight witch hu...er...delivery of justice.

    and its no surprise "the war on
    • by dave562 ( 969951 )

      and search using OCR. But these cant be redacted as easily.

      There are plenty of systems out there that can perform keyword searches and redact accordingly once the originals have been OCR'd.

  • Would it be possible to perpetrate what would effectively be a DDOS attack via the FOIA request mechanism? If the government were required to handle every single request without question, then could an anti-government group send a large number of requests that would waste human, machine, and dollar resources to an extent that was crippling? How should the good intent of the FOIA be balanced against potential misuse?

    • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

      It sounds to me like the system is already being DOSed, but from the inside. Locating and capturing one guy produced 13,000 separate case files?

      The lesson every government agency will take from this is that each action, investigation, or report, no matter how petty or inconsequential, should somehow involve generating enormous tomes worth of documentation. Attach a reference to the entire United States Code to every case file, for example; some part of it must be pertinent. Then anytime anyone files any FOI

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Considering the request, it's insanely broad. Figure this guy's confiction is on the end of a lot of other cases to narrow him down. He didn't just want court documents but every report, communication, and document leading up to discovering Guzman and his arrest.

        I don't doubt that recording ever 'communication', field report, court case of someone down the food chain from Guzman and the like produced that many documents. I'm suprized it wasn't more.

        To quote the request: "I request any and all reports,

  • That article was - eh - short. I'm not sure I learned anything from it, maybe I'm having a TL;TR day.

    But if the requestor really wants 13k documents - let'em crowd fund it and make the case to the public.

    I'd be humored to find out if the gov't would even do the work if $1.4m showed up in their bank account. Hah - pay them in cash with amounts under $10,000 to trigger the IRS monitoring of drug crimes.

  • But why do they want these documents? It seems like an extraordinarily large ask without some similarly large rationale behind it.
    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      13000.... It's not that many documents... it should all fit on a single USB drive.

      The government should be required to modernize, not given the ability to charge outrageous fees just to get access to public records.

      • 13,000 documents is a lot of documents, when you are considering that they each will have to be viewed by a person. There is no way that a software solution could provide the necessary level of security while preserving enough of the documents to be useful to anyone... which brings me back to my original question: What are they looking for? If they are looking for public support then they should make it more clear why this is an issue of public concern. Right now, all I know is that the government captured
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