Your G-Men at Work

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Slightly silly business over at Cryptome where the FBI claims a man's name, address, and Social Security number is not enough info with which to search "the central records system at FBI Headquarters" pursuant to a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act request.

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  1. This sounds pretty routine. Many types of records are matched on name and date of birth. If you only have the name, the FBI would have to do the extra work of finding all the John Youngs in their records and trying to match on some other field. That?s extra work. It?s not a lot of extra work, but it?s probably more than they?re required to do for an FOIA request, especially since the requestor obviously knows the date of birth.

    The FBI could probably get the date of birth from the Social Security number, but that would require searching Social Security Administration records, and that?s a different department.

  2. Also the FBI sometimes makes you verify that you are the person mentioned in the records or that you have that person’s permission. That’s probably what they are doing.

  3. Some months (or maybe just over a year?) ago AG Ashcroft passed down rules to the FOIA department that said, in effect:

    “You won’t be punished if you deny a request you should have granted, but you will be punished if you release information you shouldn’t.”

    J.A.’s announcement was much more subtle, but it was that clear language to any government worker who read it.

    [Sorry I didn’t blog it at the time. I think is was before the transition to DHS in March 2003.]

  4. Seems to me like they might have something to hide. After all, if there’s nothing wrong with the file/case, etc., why not just release the info.? What are they covering up? What did they know? When did they know it? Where’s my foil hat? Why is my tongue so deeply imbedded in my cheek?

  5. Open DNA DOJ never “transitioned” FOIA functions off to Homeland Security. Homeland Security has its own FOIA office – as does DOJ. In fact, all cabinet level agencies, and most of their component agencies, and those unconstitutional “independent” and “quasi-independent” agencies have FOIA offices as well.

    Even though it’s patently untrue, I’ll concede that it does make a great soundbite and I’m sure I’ll hear it here in Hit & Miss soon – “Ashcroft got rid of the FOIA office at DOJ.”

  6. Stephen Fetchet,

    You’re right, “DOJ never “transitioned” FOIA functions off to Homeland Security”. I didn’t imply they did. Nor did I imply that the FOIA office was killed.

    That’s not to say that what I wrote is “patently untrue”. A better google query turns up this memo (discussion included) regarding the change from the “foreseeable harm” standard to the “sound legal basis” standard. I quote:
    “Any discretionary decision by your agency to disclose information protected under the FOIA should be made only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by disclosure of the information… When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records.”
    That’s from AG Ashcroft’s memo to “Heads of all Federal Departments and Agencies” entitled The Freedom of Information Act.

    While perhaps an over-simplification, I stand by the translation: “You won’t be punished if you deny a request you should have granted, but you will be punished if you release information you shouldn’t.”

    The DHS transition comment was a time reference only (I was transitioned to DHS and no longer get DOJ memos in my email box). Incidentally, the memo was dated October 19 2001 – before the merger to DHS.

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