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Communications Government Networking United States Technology

FBI Will Revert To Using Fax Machines, Snail Mail For FOIA Requests (dailydot.com) 245

blottsie writes: Starting next month, the FBI will no longer accept Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests via email. Instead, the U.S. agency will largely require requests be made via fax machine or the U.S. Postal Service. [The FBI will also accept a small number of requests via an online portal, "provided users agree to a terms-of-service agreement and are willing to provide the FBI with personal information, including a phone number and physical address."] The Daily Dot reports: "It's a huge step backwards for the FBI to switch from a proven, ubiquitous, user-friendly technology like email to a portal that has consistently shown problems, ranging from restricting how often citizens can access their right to government oversight to legitimate privacy concerns," says Michael Morisy, co-founder of MuckRock, a nonprofit that has helped people file over 28,271 public records requests at more than 6,690 state, federal, and local agencies. "Given that email has worked well for millions of requests over the years, this seems like a move designed to reduce participation and transparency, and we hope that the FBI will reverse course," Morisy added.
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FBI Will Revert To Using Fax Machines, Snail Mail For FOIA Requests

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  • by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:01AM (#53818079)

    for dmca takedown notices :D

    • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @09:02AM (#53818355) Homepage
      How far can such stalling and obfuscating be stretched? What are the limits?
      An inspirational example is below. But one thing it makes clear. Our country is deeply divided. Not just two toxic political parties bitterly fighting (through the people who support each), but also how the government (which is made of people) are divided against the citizens. Also how the divide between rich and poor is increasing. Neither side in any of these divisions even makes a pretense of playing fair, clean or by the rules anymore. But now the example of obfuscating . . .


      “But the plans were on display”
      “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
      “That’s the display department.”
      “With a flashlight.”
      “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
      “So had the stairs.”
      “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
      “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

      Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @09:35AM (#53818515)

        Honestly I tend to think the driving force of all the division is what I've come to call "the clicks". They've got to do everything to get the clicks. The media, none of it, even remotely pretends to present things in a fair and impartial light. They spin everything as much as they can and make headlines as inflammatory as possible to try to get the clicks. And whether you want to admit it or not, the media has a huge influence on everybody. They fundamentally set the mood of everything. And since they've decided that the clicks are more important than providing fair level headed articles, and riling people up is the best way to get the clicks, we end up with the atmosphere we have. Everybody is divided based on if they agree or disagree with the headlines.

        The part that annoys me the most is how the media seems to staunchly refuse to accept their responsibility in most of this. As far as I can tell, CNN elected Trump, but they'll refuse it staunchly. They spent years covering every little terrorist attack and making things that really weren't that big of a deal all you heard about because it got them the clicks. This created a sense of fear which Trump then played to and took advantage of. And now CNN is pissed that he took advantage of something they created and now rather than covering things fairly, they're playing up how awful everything he does is. Note how they don't cover any of the positives he's done, and only the stuff their reader base will be outraged by. Again. For the clicks.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @10:35AM (#53818929)

          They've got to do everything to get the clicks. ~. The part that annoys me the most is how the media seems to staunchly refuse to accept their responsibility in most of this.

          It is the reality of the situation. Print media (the ones who used to do investigations and in-depth reporting) is dead. TV news is too short (30 minute programs) and on too long (multiple times a day to 24hrs) to present anything but irrelevant and entertaining one-liner stories.

          How did this happen? With print, it was the death of print advertising. Future historians, if they can piece together any records will note that Print died when Craigslist took off. The newspapers failed to see that the print classifieds model was dead and lost that war without a fight. Other print revenue soon followed.

          What we are left with is the stupid headline that links to a 30-page slideshow (29x the ads a normal 1-pager would have!). Adblock destroys that model. 30 pages of annoying clicking reduces traffic. Death Spiral continues

        • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @10:53AM (#53819059)

          Honestly I tend to think the driving force of all the division is what I've come to call "the clicks". They've got to do everything to get the clicks. The media, none of it, even remotely pretends to present things in a fair and impartial light. They spin everything as much as they can and make headlines as inflammatory as possible to try to get the clicks. And whether you want to admit it or not, the media has a huge influence on everybody. They fundamentally set the mood of everything. And since they've decided that the clicks are more important than providing fair level headed articles, and riling people up is the best way to get the clicks, we end up with the atmosphere we have.

          If the "atmosphere" we have today is one of bullshit hype and information deemed corrosive at best, then perhaps we need to find a way to stop fucking feeding it. In other words, stop creating and funding revenue streams based on nothing more than "the clicks". Petition to make turning a human into the product illegal. Start to give a shit about privacy again.

          Sadly, that will never happen, so our atmosphere will continue to devolve. Capitalism often does not makes sense due to it being perverted by corruption and greed. I can start a tobacco company today and help contribute the the killing of hundreds of thousands of Americans every year (far worse a death toll than anything we're currently rioting in the streets over), but I'll be arrested if I sell marijuana, because it's "harmful".

          We we support, is what we ultimately get.

        • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @11:29AM (#53819355) Homepage
          Yes. The media is largely responsible. I remember when CNN was respectable. It was about real news. I watched it deteriorate over decades. They got rid of Headline News. Replaced it with basically gossip and fluff. Stopped doing real analysis. The invasion of the Talking Heads. Sound Bites.

          I remember when CNN closed their foreign bureaus. Fired their investigative journalists. At the time, a friend and I wondered how CNN would continue to operate. Now it is clear. Pretend news. Infotainment. It's mostly editorial. Regurgitating government hand outs. The government figured out with 9/11 that it could seize control of the news media with "embedded journalists". They could simultaneously sanitize the war news coverage while also holding the news media hostage to the deliciously addictive handouts of news bits from the government as long as journalists play nice and don't get their access revoked. You can see this today in the white house press briefing room.
      • “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

        Ever thought of going into advertising :D (The last bit of the quote you missed off!)

        • I just copy/pasted from somewhere. No deliberate intent to leave off something important. My point was about obfuscation by a government agency.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Noooo, the MAFIAA will cut down every forest in the land just to send their billions of take-down notices a year! You will end up like Easter Island!

    • oh wow, that's the funniest thing I've read in a long time!!

      but its so marvelously clever, too. it would halt the abuse of dmca since the 'bots' can't really just auto-fax or snail mail so easily.

      it will also COST THEM REAL MONEY. and that's just icing on the cake.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:03AM (#53818087)
    Snowden is correct that the enemy is within.
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:08AM (#53818099) Homepage
    After their interference in the last election where the FBI was on the same side of a US election as the GRU, is this any real surprise? The perception it creates is an image of a law enforcement agency that's gone off the rails. Snooping without a warrant [techdirt.com] and the nearly unchecked expansion of surveillance powers makes me wonder where this country is headed and whether the FBI needs a reboot.
  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:19AM (#53818147)
    Faxes are considered legal documents. Emails are a very gray area. Japan is one place where faxes are still serious business machines for this very issue. Physical signatures with point to point delivery and receipt verification are often required to close a legal business transaction. Emails don't provide that proof.
    • by ravenshrike ( 808508 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:28AM (#53818187)

      Bingo. Also, while it may reduce participation, it increases transparency as it forces those doing the requesting to be much more transparent about their location and who they are. Not to mention if you're too lazy to run down to Kinko's to send off a FOIA request you should fuck right off.

      • Kinko's - transparency? Isn't that the opposite of the point you're trying to make? If I don't want people to know who I am, I'll perform my electronic comms through Kinko's or a coffee shop, etc. Is it so hard to require a verifiable name and address? I can do my banking online at home, but FOIA needs to be done over unencrypted fax from Kinko's?

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:51AM (#53818295) Journal

      In the US, the federal ESIGN act was passed in 2000, giving digital documents full legal recognition. Wow, it's been seventeen years - it doesn't seem that long.

      47 states have adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which is similar.

      For some types of transactions, one party might be concerned that they can't prove the document hasn't been tampered with, if it's not a cryptographic signature. That can be a legitimate concern, in some types of transactions.

      As the DNC learned the hard way a few months ago, many emails have a tamper-proof signature called DKIM automatically applied, so your email may have a signature proving it is legitimate without you even knowing it. I don't see this as an issue the FBI would be concerned with for FOIA requests - I don't think there's a big danger of hackers changing your FOIA requests.

      • by flink ( 18449 )

        DKIM authenticates the originating mail server, not the individual user.

        • True, DKIM authenticates the server. Most servers, in turn, authenticate the sender of outgoing mail.

          So in the entertaining example of the DNC, we have the DNC's server, itself cryptographically authenticated, attesting that Donna Brazile sent those messages, using her password. Theoretically yes, the DNC's own server *could* be lying. Or else a politician is lying.

    • by Ramze ( 640788 )

      It's a curious line to draw -- b/c I have personal experience with using fax machines at a very well known international bank, and almost everywhere I've worked has had fax lines digitally tied to e-mail. I can send and receive faxes from my work e-mail in Outlook. I can also ask a customer to scan their document and attach it to any of dozens of free web-based fax services and e-mail to fax services. The line between fax and e-mail is already blurred to where they're nearly indistinguishable. Both

    • by Jezral ( 449476 )

      Here in Denmark, emails are considered legal documents. Doubly so if you digitally sign them with your government provided citizen key.

      But from another comment, it seems US does also recognize emails - it's just the FBI that doesn't.

    • What? It is very easy to spoof a signature (or anything else) on a fax. Signatures are only verifiable in penned ink. Once you digitize it, it's next to useless. Also, that fax is likely travelling unencrypted over the internet like the rest of voice traffic these days (POTS is dead). Unless you're using end-to-end encryption with verified certs, fax is not secure. Man in the middle attacks are very much feasible.

      I'm quite disappointed PGP never took off.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        One of the dirty secrets out there is that signatures don't ACTUALLY mean much. The minimum cost to analyse a signature for authenticity is about 10K and even then all you will get is an opinion of the liklihood that the signature is authentic.

        They are legally assigned a great deal of weight, but that's a fiction.

    • [quote]Faxes are considered legal documents. Emails are a very gray area. [/quote]

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      [quote]Physical signatures with point to point delivery and receipt verification are often required to close a legal business transaction. Emails don't provide that proof.[/quote]

      E-mail most certainly CAN provide that proof.

      • Yes, electronic signatures are defined. The gray area is emails that are not electronically signed.
        • That's not a problem because anyone using e-mail for contracts/legal stuff is going to use digital signatures. One can even set digital signatures as the default in e-mail clients. EVERY e-mail I send is digitally signed.

    • That's nonsense. First, as you said, email is a bit of a gray area because case history is not as established as Fax, but that doesn't mean email is insufficient. They'd been accepting emails already, indicating that email was sufficient for this purpose. We're not talking about signed contracts, just a request for information that people have a legal right to access. If there were some particular security issue, they could add some kind of requirement for email requests (e.g. must be submitted in a web

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      It has been a very long time since FAX could be considered point to point. Even over a pots line, it has been a long time since it was accomplished by a series of relays connecting copper wire to form a contiguous circuit.

  • FOIA joke (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:21AM (#53818153)

    [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] [redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted] the [redacted][redacted][redacted]in [redacted][redacted][redacted] [redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted] a [redacted][redacted]

    What's the use of FOIA requests nowadays anyway. The above is what you're likely to get.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      It was kind of fun when some documents where released in PDF format with the redaction placed as a easily removable layer over the top. I forget which government made that mistake.
    • by Calydor ( 739835 )
  • by VorpalRodent ( 964940 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:22AM (#53818155)

    restricting how often citizens can access their right to government oversight

    So now it's my right to be constantly watched by my government? I've always considered it more of a privilege.

    I'm just saying - this can be mis-parsed.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Actually, it is probably a response to getting swamped with email requests for FOIAs. And there's nothing stopping the Chinese, Norks, of Vladimir and his thugs from misusing the service.

      • How is it any harder to send a fax? You can do it as easy as sending an e-mail (I am sure there are even e-mail to fax gateways out there)...

        I get it, it's an old technology. But so is e-mail.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        As if Vlad the Putin needs to submit an FOI request to get that information. Ha!

        What is more important: Some requests for publicly available, non-classified information by potentially bad actors, or easy access for citizens so that they may keen an eye on their government? I'd say it's worth throwing resources at to keep the email option.

  • Not a good look (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:24AM (#53818161) Journal
    So the FBI will essentially restrict public access to public records while the EPA is being boarded up.

    The best weapon of a bad government is secrecy, and like most, ours has a history of behaving badly when the curtain is drawn.

    • An agency that no longer exists is an agency that can no longer abuse its power.
      • Re:Not a good look (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @09:35AM (#53818517)

        An agency that no longer exists is an agency that can no longer abuse its power.

        Maybe we should address the abuse of power, rather than throwing up our hands. Or don't you like having clean water to drink?

      • Re:Not a good look (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @09:35AM (#53818527)

        You must not remember the 'good ole' days of acid rain, undrinkable water and air quality so bad that most of the year places like LA were in a constant fog of unbreathable air. Sure, the EPA has overstepped their bounds on occasion, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water here. I prefer the environment NOT going to shit quite as quickly as it did in the last century when business were to dump whatever, whenever, wherever.

    • How is fax any more or less restrictive than e-mail?

      I am sure that Flowers By Irene are just using a fax to e-mail service anyway so the end result is the same: an e-mail box full of FOIA requests and spam.

  • by Merk42 ( 1906718 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:48AM (#53818283)
    The fax machine on the receiving end is at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard".
  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @08:55AM (#53818319) Journal

    I seem to remember reading this story a year or two ago. Maybe a year ago they announced ahead of time that they would stop accepting FOIA emails in q1 2017? Maybe it was a different federal agency that made the same announcement?

  • Given that email has worked well for millions of requests over the years

    There has to be a better way to oversee our government. How much money is expended processing these requests? I'm not saying we need less information about our government, I'm just saying there has to be a better way to get it.

  • by thomn8r ( 635504 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2017 @09:51AM (#53818621)
    ..and they won't be machine-searchable
    • Here's what you do: You don't bother with FAX at all. You send it registered mail, return receipt requested, or you send it FedEx next-day delivery. That way someone at the FBI has to sign for it; you'll have proof it was sent and received and who received it, that will stand up in court.
      • You send it registered mail, return receipt requested, or you send it FedEx next-day delivery.

        For any legal paperwork this is just good advice. Used registered mail with return receipt a number of times when dealing with a debt collector who screwed the pooch and when dealing with an insurance company that didn't want to pay full market value for a totaled car. Not only does it prevent them from lying about not getting things (which they will do) but it also tends to send a very strong message that you mean business and they better quit fucking around.

  • Or do they tap phone lines as well? Meaning they will get all fax messages anyway.
  • As I recall when the FBI demanded a website hand over their encryption keys the owner printed it in binary on something like 10,000 pieces of paper... I believe he got in some trouble for that.

    However if the FBI is going to only allow FOI requests by fax, well it will certainly open themselves up for some serious abuse when others do likewise and when questioned on it simply point to the FBI itself and say that it seems to be an excepted method for them...

  • The US State Department STILL requires applications for ITAR export licenses to be submitted using a form system that's a dinosaur from Lotus Notes and uploaded using only Internet Explorer only on Windows.

  • With the hiring freeze in effect in the Federal Government (and it affects contractors as well), WHO is going to stand by, maintain, install, etc all those fax machines? (unless it's just a POTS fax portal which sends the fax as a scanned document to an email box..which would be funny!). Also, I'm sure their mail department will love the extra work as well......
  • Funny that I'd see a news story about this today, when I was thinking on the way in to work that we look to be entering an era (hopefully not more than 4 years long!) of less transparency in our government, and more secrecy. I'm not even going to begin to try to speculate on what could happen next, except that it's probably not going to be good for the average American citizen, especially if you're not white, but even us white folks will be affected.
  • Trump is effectively destroying the little gov't transparency that the US had.

    This is just is just more of the same. If they could legally eliminate FOIA entirely, they would. In the mean time, they'll just have to make things more difficult for people, not to mention make it easier for requests to go missing without a track record when someone wants to learn something inconvenient to the gov't.

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