FBI axes FOIA requests by email, so dust off your fax machine – TechCrunch
Starting next month, the FBI will no longer accept Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by email. In lieu of its popular email service, the FBI suggests sending aÂ fax or snail mail, a procedural change that has more to do with obstructing the law than a dearth of resources.
As the Daily Dotâs Dell Cameron reports, the FBIÂ will allow a small portion of FOIA requests via a new web portal, but the filer must first provide a phone number, mailing address and other personal details as well as signing off on the following terms of service agreement.
The terms state that anyone making a FOIA request online is now âlimited to making one request per day and one request per submission,â language that does not immediatelyÂ appear to be supported by law. Then again, the FBIâs established use of outdated technology for FOIA requests does not necessarily sit well with its requirement to show that a search was âreasonably calculated to discover the requested documents,â as is required by law.
Some of the portalâs phrasing is murky at best, but then again, so are many things about the governmentâs FOIA implementation. While not difficult, exactly, the formalized nature of FOIA can be intimidating for anyone new to the process. For publications with the resources to do so, itâs not uncommon to sue in order to obtain FOIA documents that the government refuses to hand over.
To make the whole thing more accessibleâand to promote the freedom of information more broadlyâa popular service called MuckRock offers forms and online tracking for anyone using FOIA to request documents in the public record. The spirit of the FBIâs FOIA shift runs exactly counter to MuckRockâs mission, and the mission of so many FOIA filers who seek to emancipate information that rightfully belongs to the public.
The Freedom of Information Act might not be sexy in acronym form, but some of the revelations that it ushers out of the shadows turn out to be total bombshells. Even if youâve never heard of FOIA, youâve almost certainly followed a major headline that began as a humble FOIA request. For journalists, FOIA is the most powerful transparency tool around, allowing reporters who know where to look access to deep slices of government documentation that would otherwise remain behind the curtain.
The FBI is only one of many government bodies providing FOIA resistance, but itâs a big one. Notably, theÂ CIA is among the other agencies that do not accept standard digital FOIA requests in spite of having the resources to do so. Given its track record and ongoingÂ controversy, the FBIâs decision to revert to archaic technology is troubling, but for dogged FOIA filers, another layer of strategic obfuscation is just business as usual.
Featured Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images