Tell the FBI: Keep Accepting FOIA Requests via Email
The FBI is planning to take a big step backward for government transparency.
As of March 1, the agency will no longer accept Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests via email. Anyone seeking public records from the bureau will have to use a new online portal — or send requests via fax or snail mail.
Online FOIA portals may seem like a good idea in theory, but in reality, government agencies make them difficult and cumbersome to use and they include unnecessary hurdles.
The Freedom of Information Act gives us a legal right to request public records, which allow journalists and watchdogs to hold the government accountable. FOIA requests uncovered harmful covert operations like COINTELPRO — an FBI program with the goal of dismantling civil rights groups, among others — and also exposed government surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists.1 Given the Trump administration's hostile attitude toward the press and activists, we need our government to be more transparent, not less.
Our friends at MuckRock, who help journalists and others access public records, raised the alarm when the terms of service of the new FBI portal came to light.2 These include arbitrary restrictions that aren’t consistent with the law:
• Requests can’t be longer than 3,000 characters.
• Individuals aren’t eligible for the reduced fees available to media outlets, meaning that freelance journalists, and others, will have to pay extra when filing requests.
•Memos, emails, and other internal communications appear to be off-limits to requesters — a restriction that undermines government transparency.
While these terms of service might be improved going forward, the FBI has shown that it can and will arbitrarily change them without public comment.
Tell the FBI to keep its FOIA email up and running and to drop the arbitrary restrictions.
1. “Feds Regularly Monitored Black Lives Matter Since Ferguson,” The Intercept, July 24, 2015: https://theintercept.com/2015/07/24/documents-show-department-homeland-security-monitoring-black-lives-matter-since-ferguson/
2. “The FBI’s FOIA Portal Restricts the Rights of Requesters,” Muckrock, Feb. 7, 2017: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2017/feb/07/fbi-foia-portal-bad/