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Making FOIA-Requested Data Public: Too Much Transparency For Journalists? 139

schwit1 writes: From The Washington Post's Lisa Rein comes news that the federal government is launching a six-month pilot program with seven agencies to post online documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act. That means that information requested (whether by a journalist, nonprofit group or corporation) asks for the records under FOIA, it's not the just the requester who will get to see the results, but also the public at large. What's the problem with that? For journalists whose province is the scoop, it could mean less incentive to go through the process of asking for the record in the first place. Washington Post Investigations Editor Jeff Leen says in the story that public posting could therefore "affect long-term investigations built on a number of FOIA requests over time." An excerpt offers a similar defense of documents being released only to the requesting party: "FOIA terrorist" Jason Leopold has big issues with the approach. "It would absolutely hurt journalists' ability to report on documents they obtained through a FOIA request if the government agency is going to immediately make records available to the public," writes the Vice News reporter via e-mail. Leopold has already experienced the burn of joint release, he says, after requesting information on Guantanamo Bay. The documents were posted on the U.S. Southern Command's Web site. "I lost the ability to exclusively report on the material even though I put in all of the work filing the requests," he notes. Another reason FOIA requesters might be annoyed by a general-release policy: filing FOIA requests isn't free.
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Making FOIA-Requested Data Public: Too Much Transparency For Journalists?

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  • Cry More (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Br00se ( 211727 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @10:57AM (#50092963)

    Once the information has been collected and vetted to make sure it's eligible to be released under the FOIA, it should absolutely be released to the public. The government has no duty to protects a requester business model.

    • Re:Cry More (Score:5, Insightful)

      by penix1 ( 722987 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:07AM (#50092995) Homepage

      You evidently didn't read the last line in TFS. FOIAs aren't free to file. They cost money to prepare and turn over. Add to that the restrictions on time to produce (10 days in my state. No idea what the federal time limit is) as well as the maze that is the legal exemptions on a FOIA request and it gets quite expensive. What news agency is willing to be the first to fork over the money just to have the means to recoup the funds pulled out from under them? I think this idea is brilliant if you want to curb the FOIA requests you receive.

      • Re:Cry More (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Br00se ( 211727 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:20AM (#50093033)

        I did read it. And I stand by what I said. They only reason not to publish every public document held by the government is because there are some documents for a variety of reasons need to be held private, at least for a period of time. And yes, it take effort to sort out which is which. However, once that effort has been made, by someone paying to sort it out. The reason for holding it back disappears.

        I think that it is more likely, is that with greater access to these pre-vetted documents, more issues of public interest could pursued and exposed. Something missed by a few eyes could be seen by many more.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          What is wrong with giving the person who asked for and paid for it an, e.g. two month exclusive? If the person doesn't exist then we could wait indefinitely, so nothing is lost.

          • What is wrong with giving the person who asked for and paid for it an, e.g. two month exclusive?

            Because the info is supposed to be public to begin with! It is our fault if we don't demand that the government responds. And as it turns out, most people are very conservative and think just the opposite. They outnumber us by a long shot. There are some things that should not be left up to majority rule, but it takes a lot of heavy weaponry to protect our rights. *Blood is a big expense*.

            • The perfect is the enemy of the good. In the ideal universe all of this would be public already. But we don't live in that universe, and if we insist that all FOIA requests become available to everyone then overall fewer requests will be made. So the compromise proposed by the AC is the correct response, since it means that we'll have a small delay in the info getting public but it will actually get public.
              • The perfect is the enemy of the good.

                Ah, the battle cry of the status quo. Let's shorten to something more comprehensible, shall we? Let's just say: Eh, good enough...

                • Hmm? No, not at all. Note that the proposal here is a *proposal that is different from the status quo.* So claiming that this is some sort of attempt to keep the status quo doesn't work. So instead of trying to make what amount to unhelpful accusations about motivation, actually evaluate whether the policy would be a net improvement.
                  • Yes, openness is a net improvement, for the public. For the corrupt administrator and his crime bosses maybe not so much. Trust not! And make them open the books on demand, or don't complain.

                    • Right. So since we have as our aims what is best for the public, this sort of policy makes sense.
          • Even better, give it to them as an option: have a variable amount one can use. So they could request say any amount of time up to some reasonable limit (say 6 months), and use that time.
          • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

            "Two month exclusive" as in "If you paid for it before I did, I can't get it for another two months"?

        • Re:Cry More (Score:5, Interesting)

          by pepty ( 1976012 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @12:59PM (#50093433)
          This argument reminds me of a few years ago when private weather forecasters were trying to kill off the National Weather Service's websites and public forecasts so that they wouldn't have public competition when presenting NWS data and analysis.
        • I would argue that all documents should be prepared for public consumption upon creation, unless deemed to be kept secret. The cost should be baked into the budgets, not forcing a requester to pay for something that should readily available for free as part of the legal processing of government documents.
        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          How about giving the first person to request AND PAY A FEE, and request it a 7 day exclusive period?

          Then announce that the results are available --- for the next 30 days, anyone else can get the results, but they will have to pay the FOIA fee also, and after 30 days, the results will be published for everyone free of charge.

          Also, if a second organization requested the FOIA results during the 30 days, then the fee they pay will be half of what the first requestor paid, AND half of the fee they pay a

        • They don't publish every public record and have no intention of doing so. They ONLY publish records for free once someone has paid to see them.

          As the others say, this is a very pointed attack on FOIA requests.

          • They don't publish every public record and have no intention of doing so.

            Because doing so isn't free. It takes time and resources, which means money. If a full release plan were implemented, after the first release of something big that shouldn't have been released (opps, all those private tax returns were buried in some miscellaneous filings), a major double-check system would be put in place raising the costs even more. Taxpayers don't want to pay for things they don't feel directly benefit them, and this would be seen as spending a lot of money so that info only desired ra

            • "Because doing so isn't free. It takes time and resources, which means money."

              Only because the system is geared around habitual institutional secrecy.

              Open government principles imply that all records are accessible unless there is a good reason not to (and embarrassment of civic officials isn't one of those reasons). Several parts of the world are or have moved to this model.

              The USA is only slightly less corrupt than the average west african dictatorship, so it's not that surprising government wants to keep

        • by Altrag ( 195300 )

          The problem is that if I have to pay to get something released, and I'll see no ROI, then I'm not going to pay for it.

          I agree it would be grand if the government would just release all public documents on their own dime. But they don't. And if this stops investigators putting in their dime as well, the result will be NO documents being released to anybody, which is not an improvement over the current system.

          Doing this but implementing say, a 1 month moratorium on public release rather than immediate, woul

          • by Br00se ( 211727 )

            If you are a real journalist doing a real story, you will already have other sources that support whatever story you are writing. Getting the FOIA data may be the "smoking gun" you need to publish your story. Paying for that is the coast of doing business, and in many cases, you are just paying for actual costs of photocopies.

            Having the public information "leak" early should have minimal impact on your ability to recover the investment you have put into researching the story and interviewing people for qu

            • by Altrag ( 195300 )

              I'm not a journalist, but I'm going to assume that in most cases, if I think something's up.. probably my competitor will be thinking something's up as well. Sure there's the occasional deep investigative effort that requires months or years of sifting through clues and evidence to find facts but the vast majority of the news is just "hey look something happened and we managed to be first to print."

              Sure under the current system chances are both parties will file their own FOIA requests, but it becomes a bi

        • but I found these two quotes to be interesting:

          Heh. The problem is not the fees.
          The problem is that journalists and activists overwhelmingly end up having to sue Federal (and State) Agencies in order to get a response or responsive documents to their FOIA requests.

          This is despite the fact that Federal Agencies are required by law to respond to FOIA requests within 30(?) days.

          "Even when a journalist acts with the utmost diligence in filing a FOIA request and pursuing his or her rights in court, agency feet-dragging can frustrate a journalist's attempt to obtain records at the time when they are needed most," [Jason "FOIA Terrorist" Leopold] wrote [in his written testimony before Congress].

          "Investigative journalists should be spending their time and resources investigating, not litigating," he added. "Unfortunately, some agencies refuse to conduct adequate searches and fail to properly apply FOIA's exemption provisions until a lawsuit has been filed."

          It can take years of litigation to get documents out of Federal Agencies.
          Years. Of paying lawyers.
          And then their scoop is gone.

          I see the merits of arguments in favor of "upload imme

      • Re:Cry More (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:24AM (#50093049) Journal

        I having trouble feeling sorry for the journalists. Yes the scoop is important but we are not selling papers by having young boys shout "EXTRA" from the street corners anymore. Any novel facts uncovered will be repeated by 100s of blogers the moment the story drops anyway. A huge portion of the would have been in the old days readership/viewership will get that news from there anyway. So whats the big deal if the facts usually accompanied by with more chaff than most folks are willing to sort thru drop one more place?

        Where journalism is useful is analysis. They still have a leg up there. If you have been working a story you for which you had to file those requests than other facts and sources must have lead you there. You already have a bigger picture view than anyone else. You know what material you are looking for in those documents. The rest of us just have a 1000 pages of US Forestry Service reports and questions, for example.

        I don't by a paper to learn the "CIA has over 300 black sites" I buy a paper because I expect an article that will tell me not only are there 300 black sites, but what a black site is, how they are used, some reasons I should be concerned about that and may be reasons I should not be, what the broader implications for international law enforcement and political relationships are, etc. If my interested ended with a few odd facts the only news I would need are Slashdot summaries anyway.

        On the flip side this will be a nice resource to have that will make linking to original source materials be they to support a news story, scholarly paper, Internet rant, or whatever much easier. That will be a good thing, but it will mean for the issues your really do care about you'll have direct access to the evidence itself to for your own judgments. I think this could be very valuable.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        FOIAs aren't free to file. They cost money to prepare and turn over.

        Well, that's something we have to fix right now. We are supposed to demand the government produce the documents, not request them. And we should make them do it for free. It's what we pay taxes for goddammit! Here again a submissive, obedient public in its appeal to authority is the real problem

        • Re:Cry More (Score:5, Interesting)

          by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @12:31PM (#50093295) Journal

          Are you willing to increase your taxes paid by 20% just to staff enough people for my "UFO" and "Anal probe" requests in 30 different ways to every single agency i can think of so i can prove all UFO sightings are government conspiracies an all alien anal probes are means to punish and discredit people who are thorns in the side of the government or some crony company they support? Or should something like the department of health and human services spend a good portion of their budget on these rather than their stated missions? I can see it now. FEMA fails to respond to some natural disaster stating their budget was already burned through fielding FOIA requests.

          I agree with you in principle, I just look at the practical application of it. Probably unlike you, I do see a need for some secrets to remain in government. I think it's mostly to national defense and comments or advice given but not adopted over political matters. For example, issues like the civil rights act or giving women the vote could have turned out differently if everything we now know was instantly available when it transpired.

          • And how is this change we're discussing here in any way related?

            You can do that now if you want, it just doesn't become public ... And you have to pay for it anyway!

      • Re:Cry More (Score:5, Interesting)

        by McGruber ( 1417641 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @12:04PM (#50093209)

        What news agency is willing to be the first to fork over the money just to have the means to recoup the funds pulled out from under them? I think this idea is brilliant if you want to curb the FOIA requests you receive.

        The real danger to news agencies is that The Daily Show, National Public Radio's On the Media program [] and other media critics will be able to see all the documents that the reporters were given, but did not report on.... so, IMHO, this new FOIA policy will really help to expose the biases of many mainstream news agencies.

        • by pepty ( 1976012 )
          Is the name of the requester also going to be published, or just the documents requested?
      • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

        They cost money to prepare and turn over.

        So, what, the requester gets copyright on the documents? I don't see that flying. The government has to keep it a secret? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of a FOIA request? Isn't it a bit absurd to assume that, if you are demanding transparency from the government, to also demand they keep your demand for transparency a secret?

        They are public documents. Doesn't matter who is paying to gather them together.

        • by Altrag ( 195300 )

          the requester gets copyright on the documents?

          Uhhh no? Even if copyright applies to public documents, selling a use of the document does not imply selling the copyright. We wouldn't have all the issues with RIAA/MPAA that we do if the world worked like that!

          The government has to keep it a secret?

          Uhhh no? There's nothing stopping somebody else filing their own FOIA request for the same document.

          Doesn't matter who is paying to gather them together.

          Yes it does. It matters if "nobody" is paying to gather them together, which is what you'll see happen (or at least a lot closer to it) if there's no chance for a return on investment. The only p

      • You evidently didn't read the last line in TFS. FOIAs aren't free to file.

        For the record FOIA requests are free to file however you can be charged for costs associated with search and reproduction of materials sought.

        hey cost money to prepare and turn over. Add to that the restrictions on time to produce (10 days in my state. No idea what the federal time limit is) as well as the maze that is the legal exemptions on a FOIA request and it gets quite expensive.

        Any objective figures to share?

        What news agency is willing to be the first to fork over the money just to have the means to recoup the funds pulled out from under them?

        How should I know? Was any useful information provided that would be helpful in making a determination? All I see are articles teeming with loaded words.

        As for why a news outfit would bother to do their job... I don't know... neither does Volvo I suspect. []

      • You evidently didn't read the last line in TFS. FOIAs aren't free to file.

        Your UserID is low enough to know that TFS is often dead wrong.

        FOIA law does not specify any fees, but it allows each agency to establish its own fee structure for filling requests.

        Generally speaking, if filling the request takes minimal effort, there's no fee. This has always been true (in my limited experience) for electronic copies of electronic records; if all someone has to do is copy a file or whatever, no problem.

        If you're going to start requesting printed copies of records, they're likely to start

    • This smacks of "the most transparent administration in history" offering a solution that can be trumped up as transparency, but is actually intended to reduce the number of FOIA requests to begin with.
      If they are truly committed to transparency in this area, the real solution is fairly clear: Offer the requester a choice. For no filing fee, the requested documents will be released online in a central repository for everybody to see. Or for a fee, the response will be completed as it is now. Reporters get t
    • they want to be able to continue to put their spin and political slant on things before people have a chance to make up their own minds
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      That actually happened here - one government corporation recently came under FOIA discovery, and their FOIA procedure was to post all requests fulfilled on a public website.

      So naturally, the FOIA requests came in, and the results were well, made public.

      The news agencies made such a loud noise about it and filed lawsuits all about it, to the point where the company stopped putting the data up for 24 hours.

      While the intention was to foil FOIA requests, I always felt that putting the results up immediately was

    • I work for government. I work with some pretty contentious issues. I deal with FOI requests all the time. Personally I think it is a good idea for a great number of reasons, provided you have the resources to host and support it.

      Firstly is that of bias. Journalists have some, usually depending on who they're working for. However I've found that more FOI requests come from A) Lawyers, and B) Special Interest Groups, both left and right, industry and association. In most cases, there isn't anything overly sho

  • by HairyNevus ( 992803 ) <> on Sunday July 12, 2015 @10:58AM (#50092967)
    Guess this means those those journalists didn't really care about exposing the corruption/injustice/what have you in their story as much as they like getting the credit and praise for doing the exposing. This is why i don't like Vice; they can do a really good job of reporting and exposing bad people to be sure, but they rarely bother to offer up a solution or shy away from making simple poverty porn for more page views.
    • They care about selling their story. Welcome to the capitalist world.

      Idealism doesn't put food on the table.

      • by HairyNevus ( 992803 ) <> on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:44AM (#50093119)
        As an AC pointed out [] Snowden's raw leaks being made public didn't stop reporters from selling stories on that information. I'm just calling bullshit on this idea that FOIA requests being published publicly automatically...will somehow hurt any reporter's story. If they're worried about another reporter poaching the info and publishing before them, they need to be better at their job. Have all the background written up and ready to go by the time the FOIA is being filed, then pull an all-nighter to finish the story when it comes out. Simple.
        • by pepty ( 1976012 )
          That's great for simple stories. But this further kills the incentive to follow long, complicated stories that take months of investigation of multiple sources. Like say, most government corruption investigations. Still it would be a fair rule, unlike Scott Walker trying to carve out FOIA exemptions to hide embarrassing and potentially corrupt practices.
          • i wouldnt call the snowden leak a simple story
          • But this further kills the incentive to follow long, complicated stories that take months of investigation of multiple sources. Like say, most government corruption investigations.

            You just described how journalism used to be, not how it currently is. Nobody is doing that.

      • Idealism doesn't put food on the table.

        Oh yeah? Tell that to all the churches and mega preachers with billion dollar Swiss bank accounts! People are slaves to idealism. They'll do anything in its name. Idealism is a great motivator, one of the best there is, if not the best.

        • by penix1 ( 722987 )

          Don't confuse idealism with tax breaks.... Remove the tax breaks and see how the "donations" decline.

          • What do you think motivates those tax breaks? Idealism is a hammer, an ideal one at that! It does indeed fill the belly, and empty the bowels.

    • Well, then let's just give the credit for making the FOIA request. And the journalist and/or organization that makes the most useful FOIA requests per year as voted on by their peers, wins all their costs times 100.

      Otherwise, this a brilliant way to slow FOIA requests by profit making enterprises.

    • It isn't necessarily a reporters job to find solutions. It might be beneficial and make for a more interesting article, but the a reporters job is ostensibly to report the facts and try to pretend that they are unbiased.

  • by DG ( 989 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @10:59AM (#50092973) Homepage Journal

    FOIA is about releasing information held by public agencies to the public. We all "own" it, we have a right to see it, and if we ask, we can.

    That's the public "we". Putting in a FOIA request doesn't make that information "yours" and a business model that depends on you adding an additional layer of secrecy is fundamentally flawed. The public has no interest in helping to maintain your flawed business model.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:09AM (#50093001)

      Yes.... we all own it, BUT the journalists might not request it in the first place, since they have to pay for the request, If they lose the ability to use the results in their business to get the story early.

      What I would support is a 7 day exclusivity period that can be requested for an additional fee; where the requestor will get their results of the FOIA requests, But the guaranteed public release will be temporarily delayed after the requestor receives the files and gets a 7 day headstart..

      If the journalist cannot find something to report on within their 7 day headstart, then probably there was no "scoop" to get.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        All of the Snowden leaked documents were made public. How many people slogged through all 200,000 - 1.7 million of them to find all those little details of all the spying they did?

        I didn't.

        The journalists who reported on it did. And it took many of them to find all of the NSA absues and illegal activities. More the merrier.

        And how many folks are going to monitor the website?

        What I'm saying is that a reporter requests some document, many folks won't even know the reason why, may not even notice, wont bot

      • by NaCh0 ( 6124 )

        I strongly doubt government investigations will cease if FOIA information is gets 0-day public releases.

        This is a scare tactic by big media to protect their profits.

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          I strongly doubt government investigations will cease

          How is that? It is likely that media organizations will budget less $$$ to front the money on FOIA requests, if the best possible benefits of spending that cash are extremely limited.

    • by Alan Shutko ( 5101 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:15AM (#50093019) Homepage

      If journalists stop asking because they could expend all the time, money and labor to dig up the information without being able to get any reward on the expose, then the public will be hurt. Since fewer people will be asking, less information will be released.

      A short delay before putting the information public would leave an incentive for journalists to keep investigating, while still making all of the results available to the public.

    • by ZipK ( 1051658 )

      We all "own" it, we have a right to see it, and if we ask, we can.

      Releasing a FOIA result only to the person who requested it does not abridge another person from asking for it. If you'd like to see the materials, you can spend the time and money to navigate the FOIA maze, rather than riding on the coattails of someone else's outlay.

      • And waste more taxpayer money forcing a public employee to go through all the work again?

        Free for one, free for all. Putting in the initial request is performing a public service, not something proprietary.

        If the process is a "maze", that suggests a process improvement to be made, not an excuse to privatize public information.

        • by ZipK ( 1051658 )

          If the process is a "maze", that suggests a process improvement to be made, not an excuse to privatize public information.

          The information isn't being made private; you are free to request a copy, rather than ride the coattails of someone else's research. Removing the tollgate is a laudable goal, but as long as it remains in place, there is demonstrable public value in providing journalists incentive for digging. And that incentive is currently exclusive access to the response to their FOIA.

          • If access is restricted, the information is being kept private. You do understand the logic, don't you? Only we can pry it open, and force it open we must.

            • by ZipK ( 1051658 )

              If access is restricted, the information is being kept private.

              No additional privacy restrictions are being requested on the public information, only on the specific response to a request. The publicly accessible information that is returned in the response is available to you upon FOIA request.

          • by DG ( 989 )

            Why "ride the coattails" rather than "stand on the shoulders of giants"?

            Is it so terrible that someone might benefit from someone else's work? That multiple eyeballs see the same info, multiple brains ponder meaning, multiple voices tell its story?

            Attempting to protect exclusivity with public information is not the right answer.

            • by ZipK ( 1051658 )

              Why "ride the coattails" rather than "stand on the shoulders of giants"?

              Because there are economic costs and returns to many FOIA requests. Removing all exclusivity of access to the response will expose a reporter's work (that is, the request), and lower the value of the response, which will in turn remove some or all of the incentive for digging, which in turn is a net negative to society. On the other hand, giving a FOIA requester a period of exclusive access to the response retains the value while still allowing you to stand on a giant's shoulders in a timely manner.

        • And waste more taxpayer money forcing a public employee to go through all the work again?

          I can't recall the name, but there's an organization that spends its free time re-requesting FOIA'ed documents just to see what is or isn't redacted in subsequent releases.

          It's basically a social engineering approach to un-redacting documents.

    • The public has no interest in helping to maintain your flawed business model.

      Yeah, well, they're not putting up much resistance against it, are they? They express their interest through apathy.

      • by DG ( 989 )

        Does that make it right then? Is the moral standard for what's right now "whatever the public lets us get away with"?

        If so, I understand your desire to minimize exposure of public information....

        • That has always been the standard. It is a very basic standard. *What the market will bear*, a variation of *might makes right* I didn't write the standard, and I hardly approve (don't know why you think I do). It just is, and each person has to take his own stand. And you are witnessing the result of the stand people have taken. It all seems pretty straight up to me. 'Morality' doesn't even enter the picture of everyday business. It is pointless to even bring it up to the sociopathic rulers we handed to ke

  • "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it."

    [Irony: Slashdot quote was "There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about." -- John von Neumann]
  • by rshol ( 746340 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:06AM (#50092991)

    ALL information,all documents,all emails that would be subject to FOIA requests should be put on the web as they are produced. We should not have to ask for the information, it should already be there.

    • by DG ( 989 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:39AM (#50093101) Homepage Journal

      Good idea in theory, non sustainable in practice. There's just too much information generated daily; the cost of hosting would be overly high and I bet the UI for navigating it would be horrid.

      The current process is nominally OK, less the fact that only one person benefits from the work of retrieving it. Once found, it should be free for all.

    • It's our own fault. We put up insufficient force. If we don't demand it, nothing with change. In fact the problem is getting worse. The public is far too submissive. It doesn't resist authority, on the contrary, it appeals to it to curry favor and privilege. That's what things like strategic voting for the 'lesser evil' gets you. The public is directly responsible for its government. There is no excuse to let this continue, unless it is what people actually want, which what I believe is the case. True liber

    • by murpup ( 576529 )

      While it is certainly a laudable goal that all government documents should be made public as soon as they are created, that is simply not practical (as pointed out by DG above). For example, what sort of system do you propose that federal agencies put into place to make employee emails available for everyone to read? How many man hours do you devote to figuring out - a priori - which emails are considered to be official federal records and which ones are just the wife sending you an email to tell you to p

  • Do a timed release. Once the FOIA request is completed, the requester gets X months of exclusivity to publish, and then it gets released publicly. This preserves the inventive for the journalists, while at the same time ensuring that even FOIA requests that don't produce something sexy enough to publish still become public access at the end of the exclusivity period.


    • by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:46AM (#50093125)

      Totally agree with you. This model is similar to scientific data acquired via federally funded research. The data belongs to the public but the researchers who proposed and did the research work get exclusive rights for a reasonable period of time in order to give them incentive to do the work in the first place.

    • Do a timed release. Once the FOIA request is completed, the requester gets X months of exclusivity to publish, and then it gets released publicly.

      Exactly this

      This gives the journalist time to get his "scoop" and gives the rest of us the ability to check his work. Under the current system journalists can (and do) leave out information that refutes their bias, while reporting only that information that supports their own opinion. The rest of us need to go to the source in order to form our own opinions.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:27AM (#50093063)

    Take a look at Wisconsin: an attempt to make the state's laws as restrictive as the FOIA was met with huge backlash and a unanimous vote in the Republican-led Senate against it. []

    Why not just dump the FOIA and let people electronically read what they want whenever? Think of it like "body cameras for politicians."

  • The "most transparent administration EVAH!!!!" has just found a way to provide a DISINCENTIVE that will help slow down news organizations investigating government.

    Because FOIA requests are time-consuming and expensive to file and pursue.

    And to think, the unthinking Slasdot echo chamber said if we voted for Romney we'd get an out-of-control power-mad government run by a shallow narcissist. I voted for Romney anyway, and guess what? The Slashdot echo chamber was right - we not only have an out-of-control, p

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @11:35AM (#50093085)

    There's exactly two kinds of people who file such a thing: Idealists who strive for freedom of information and journalists hoping for a cool exclusive story.

    Idealists usually lack the money and time to pursue this interest with zeal. And Journalists will now no longer get the money and time from their superiors for something that benefits their competitions as much as themselves.

  • Maybe the solution is not to give the journalist exclusivity but to reduce or eliminate the filing expense?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In a certain sense, FOIA requests only result in material that should have been public and therefore readily available in the first place. In that sense, there can be no issue with making the material public on a website. In another sense, there are costs associated with making FOIA requests and so requiring money from one member of the public then giving the same material to all subsequent comers for free is at least a little skewed. There is also that it's easy for the public at large to track what's bein

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @12:25PM (#50093275) Homepage
    If the concern is 'snooping', what's to stop newspapers, etc, from simply filing monthly FOI requests each month 'for a list of all FOI requests last month'?
  • As someone who has been, albeit unwittingly, at the receiving end of a 'FOIA' request (they call it 'WOB' in my country), I say: good. These requests aren't here so that journalists can make a buck. They are here so that the public knows what's going on inside government. So while I was going to have my conversations with some civil servant exposed, I wasn't allowed to know which fucker made the requests. I say: if you wanna be a big boy, you aren't afraid to show who you are. You shitty journalists stand u

  • Something I never quite understood is why don't agencies just characterize every bit of data produced and make all non-exempted data available online automatically? No more wasting time answering piecemeal FOA requests and doing one-off searches. Let the news agencies conduct their own searches at the expense of their own employees time.

    Perhaps not worth the effort for historical/archived data yet going forward how hard is it just make this a standard part of an agencies workflow?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Let's think about that.
      Say you've got 5000 employees engaged in various kinds of scientific research and building spacecraft to do so. Much of what they produce is exempt from FOIA: for instance, it might be subject to export controls; or maybe it's time card records; or discussions about selection of vendors in a competitive procurement. Someone has to review all that "every bit of data produced" and figure out which bucket it fits in, and that is time consuming. It's also very complex decision making:

  • "Swift's greatest contribution to political thought in the narrower sense of the words, is his attack, especially in Part III, on what would now be called totalitarianism. He has an extraordinarily clear prevision of the spy-haunted ‘police State’, with its endless heresy-hunts and treason trials, all really designed to neutralize popular discontent by changing it into war hysteria." ref []
  • And the government doxxes them?
  • Terry Anderson []: 'When I came home from Lebanon, I was given a generous fellowship at Columbia University by Freedom Forum. So my wife and I could write a book about our experience. We decided to ask under the Freedom of Information Act for any information on my kidnappers that might be held by the various intelligence agencies, the CIA the FBI, the NSA. In all we requested responses from thirteen government agencies. As you know, FOYA sets time limits and parameters for official responses to that kind of r
  • Allow reporters to pay a fee that equals the amount of money required to process the FOI request N days earlier than they would otherwise. Then give the reporter a copy N days before making it public. It would probably be expensive, but how badly do they want their scoop?

"You show me an American who can keep his mouth shut and I'll eat him." -- Newspaperman from Frank Capra's _Meet_John_Doe_