Free Press

DHS Denies FOIA Fee Waiver Request to Muckraker, Web Traffic "Commercial Interest" Outweighs "Public Interest" of Access to Documents



Government's irrational fear of the "commercial" can lead to strange policies. The political establishment's obsession, for example, with regulating commercial speech as if it were different from any other kind of free speech, or of resisting the decriminalization of marijuana if it means someone might make a profit off the work, betrays that fear. Lefties wish to amend the Constitution to strip corporations—in essence groups of people—of the rights the individuals comprising it enjoy, specifically the right to free speech in the political process. Advocates of such a restriction naively believe that press organizations, many of which operate as or under corporations, would be exempt.

But as it is government bureaucrats can't seem to wrap their heads around the idea that an organization exercising its First Amendment rights can also be a commercial enterprise. The latest example comes from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which denied the news website MuckRock's request for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fee waiver because of MuckRock's "commercial interests." MuckRock reported the DHS's statement to it:

Regarding the "commercial requester" classification, the Agency has also properly determined that the requested records would be used for commercial purposes. Although you assert that any responsive documents would be made available to the public for free on MuckRock's website, the Agency must balance the commercial interest against the public interest. Making documents available on MuckRock's website, even at no charge, drives traffic to the website and furthers its commercial purposes. Your request does not provide any information that would allow the Agency to determine that the public interest outweighs this commercial interest.

Emphasis in original. Transparency in government ought to be a means to its own end. Access to government documents and to the workings of government bureaucracy may not ensure a clean government but a clean government is impossible without some measure of transparency. Government employees paid to honor FOIA requests shouldn't need requesters explaining the public interest in releasing any government document. 


NEXT: Internet Sales Tax Won't Happen in Lame-Duck Session, But Should It Ever?

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  1. Lefties wish to amend the Constitution to strip corporations?in essence groups of people…

    Get a load of Mitt Romney over here.

    1. Binders of people. Ideally, 53% women and 47% men.

  2. The DHS’s justification could pretty much allow it to deny any FOIA request. If this were a matter for a jury and I were a juror, I’d find that, as punitive damages, the DHS had to turn over every document they had, requested or not.

  3. It seems like it would be pretty easy for MuckRock to simply file the request in the name of the person in charge of the group, or the intern actually filling out the documents, instead of in the name of their organization. I fully agree that it shouldn’t be necessary, but this is more of a bureaucratic nuisance than it is stonewalling.

  4. which denied the news website MuckRock’s request for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fee waiver

    How much is the fee that it prevents the requestor from getting the data? Since nothing in that statement says the FOIA request itself was denied.

    1. $3.50 for the copies.

      $2000 for the bureaucratic labor.

      Payable at the cashier’s window.

    2. Just wondering the same thing.

    3. “Approximately $647.80

  5. But as it is government bureaucrats can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that an organization exercising its First Amendment rights can also be a commercial enterprise

    Like the New York Times or NPR?

    1. Yeah. They understand that just fine. They also understand that they can’t sell their bullshit as long as opposing points of view are allowed.

    2. This.

      CNN is a commercial enterprise.
      Most journalistic outlets are commercial enterprises.

      They are just discriminating because this one seems lower class, basically.

  6. OT: anyone noticed that CNN articles no longer have a comment section? And that they seem to have written no articles about that Gruber guy calling American voters stupid?

    1. Funny that. Almost as if nobody at CNN noticed that one of the architects of Obamacare admitted that part of the strategy of passing it involved deceiving the public about it’s true costs. Or if CNN did notice, then they purposefully chose not to report on it.

      I guess it’s just not real news. Just more fake scandals for the reich-wing, Tea Party, Kochtopus, Randroid, bitter-clingerers.

      1. I actually noticed the lack of comments the day after the midterms. Sometimes I like my Proggie Tears straight up, no Derp chaser.

      2. B+ prog impression It would have been a solid A if you could have worked in “rethuglicans tricking voters to vote against their best interest.” in there.

    2. I don’t think the two are connected, but it may be that CNN isn’t doing that well financially.

      Cutting out comments is a way to save money.

    3. At least one Gruber article was on my phone’s front CNN page:…..=allsearch


    Alt fail.

    1. FYTY FOIA

      Criticism fail. Fuck.

      1. WTF

        1. The alt text says “fyty foia”. HP was trying to correct Ed, but ended up making a typo himself.

  8. I should be able to walk into a government office and promptly receive any public document I ask for and the clerk
    who hands it to me should not worry herself with regards to my intended use of said document. It is my document. I have a right to a copy. THE END. If I ask for document x because I claim I’m going to use that document to take over and rule the world, said document should be handed over to me. “Thank your sir. Have a good afternoon.”

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