Recently a page about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests was added to this site (copblock.org/foia) in the hope that it lessens the learning curve on how to use that tool to obtain information and thus achieve greater transparency from those who purport to work for us.
Yesterday I received an email that informed me about a presentation given in 2010 at the Next HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference entitled “Rummaging in the Government’s Attic: Lessons Learned from More Than 1,000 Freedom of Information Act Requests,” which provides a lot of insight into the process and thus I felt should be shared here.
Listen to the 50-minute presentation (Note that the window shows a longer length, but the presentation, with Q&A, does run 50-minutes.)
Video of the presentation
Embedded below are the slides used in the presentation
The talk suggests ways you can maximize the information returned while keeping your costs down, as well as obtain information that may not be mentioned elsewhere. For example, you could:
- include only four sentences on your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
- solicit restricted reports (or the first five pages of each restricted report to keep costs down, then if warranted follow-up to obtain the entire report) related to XXXXXXX (specific timeframe/event/etc)
- request lists of documents that’ll identify other documents, entire databases or all closed reports at that agency
- ask for documents electronically (easier to share, less expensive)
- be tenacious – if your request is rejected or if an exemption is cited that could have been done in error – follow-up
The pair also mentioned that there are about 300-400 employed within federal executive agencies to facilitate FOIA requests, point out the high level of involvement of Department of Defense employees in controlling its branding through Hollywood, and notes that requests made today, verses those using the same language even ten years ago, may return more information due to policy changes related to openness of government, and much more.