FOIA

File a FOIA, Get Sued

Government agencies forget they work for the public.

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Martin Bowling/flickr

State and local agencies around the country have taken to suing people who file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the Associated Press reports.

The agencies don't sue the citizens for monetary damage, saying they simply want a judge to rule on whether the records ought to be released. But the requesters are responsible for their own legal fees. When agencies deny FOIA requests and lose subsequent lawsuits, by contrast, they are on the hook for the requesters' legal fees. Suing them is a pre-emptive meassure.

The rhetoric around the suits often centers on the privacy rights of government employees. (The requests might involve information about individual officials' salaries, school enrollment, disciplinary records, and so forth.) But the government is supposed to work for the people. When police departments, for example, cite privacy as a reason not to release disciplinary records, they withhold vital information about people the government has entrusted with great power.

A bill in Michigan seeks to ban the practice in that state. It passed the state House unanimously earlier this year.

"Government shouldn't file a lawsuit and go on offense. Either approve the request or deny it," the bill's Republican sponsor, Rep. Klint Kesto, told the Associated Press. "This shouldn't be happening anywhere in the country."

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  1. “Government shouldn’t file a lawsuit and go on offense. Either approve the request or deny it,” the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Klint Kesto, told the Associated Press.

    The naivete of the man belies his four years in office.

  2. The fact that one has to file an FOIA to see the record of a public employee is proof enough that the system is irredeemably broken.

    1. But… But… But you forgot the below FACTS, you denier, you!!!

      Scienfoology Song? GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

      Government loves me, This I know,
      For the Government tells me so,
      Little ones to GAWD belong,
      We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
      Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
      Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
      And gives me all that I might need!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      DEA, CIA, KGB,
      Our protectors, they will be,
      FBI, TSA, and FDA,
      With us, astride us, in every way!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

    2. Okay so you want tax payer dollars spent chasing after every half-arsed FOIA request??? I am sure that any self respecting activist group has someone who write a ‘FOIA-Generator.app’ given there is no consequence for nuisance filing.

      In the UK the Data Protection Act as the provision that the public can request specifics of data held regarding them and for what purpose – in a past life I was responsible for Data Protection Act implementation at my company. But a requestor must supply reasonable ground for the request – who, what – and pay a filing fee. The filing fee was not onerous but kept out the tire-kickers.

      1. Government data should be on publicly searchable databases as a matter of course. Certainly with regard to employment records. The government should have to request special permission from the legislature to keep information out of the public record.

        1. In some cases it is. My town’s budget is available on the township’s website, and lists every employee and how much they make. Even more shocking is that this is in New Jersey.

          I took a look at the police department’s employee lists a few years back. A cop in my town averages $107K/year.

        2. Another website full of data – mostly NJ, but also includes federal

          http://php.app.com/agent/

      2. “…But a requestor must supply reasonable ground for the request – who, what – and pay a filing fee.”
        Which meant that any tin-pot tyrant could prevent the release of any information.

        “The filing fee was not onerous but kept out the tire-kickers.”
        Sorry, tire-kickers are your boss, too.
        Shaddup, siddown and hand over the info.

  3. Civics classes should include some basic legal components. Surely all these cases should be dismissed? What injury was done by filing the FOIA?

  4. “Government agencies forget they work for the public.”

    You’ll never convince them of that.

  5. Government agencies forget they work for the public.

    I wouldn’t exactly say they ‘forgot’, Bob.

  6. Just in case you forget who actually has the power.

  7. When agencies deny FOIA requests and lose subsequent lawsuits, by contrast, they are on the hook for the requesters’ legal fees.

    You mean the taxpayers are on the hook for legal fees.

    Abusing the FOIA process wastes taxpayer dollars as surely as if a government employee pocketed them. And the abusers deserve to get sued.

    1. I’m not sure I would characterize failing to comply with an FOIA request as “abusing the process” so much as “ignoring the process”. But yes lawsuits are probably warranted in those cases.

  8. One thing texas got right was publishing the salary of EVERY government employee. There is an easily searchable database.

    1. Links or it didn’t happen.

  9. Where is my h/t?

  10. Sometimes getting to the truth is harder than pulling chicken teeth. Much of the information that an FOIA used for to get information should be readily available for anyone to peruse, and use without having to jump through a mile of hoops in order to get. Also, having worked for the government for nearly 20 years, I often seen documents and reports given some sort of security classification, when none was warranted. On occasion, the only reason a security classification was used was to keep a possible scandal from being exposed, thus protecting those who should not have been protected to begin with.

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