Thursday, February 23, 2017

FBI wants less transparency

From Free Press:

The FBI is planning to take a big step backward for government transparency.

As of March 1, the agency will no longer accept Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests via email. Anyone seeking public records from the bureau will have to use a new online portal — or send requests via fax or snail mail.

Online FOIA portals may seem like a good idea in theory, but in reality, government agencies make them difficult and cumbersome to use and they include unnecessary hurdles.

Tell the FBI to keep accepting FOIA requests via email and cut out arbitrary restrictions.

The Freedom of Information Act gives us a legal right to request public records, which allow journalists and watchdogs to hold the government accountable. FOIA requests uncovered harmful covert operations like COINTELPRO — an FBI program with the goal of dismantling civil rights groups, among others — and also exposed government surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists. Given the Trump administration's hostile attitude toward the press and activists, we need our government to be more transparent, not less.

Our friends at MuckRock, who help journalists and others access public records, raised the alarm when the terms of service of the new FBI portal came to light. These include arbitrary restrictions that aren’t consistent with the law:

• Requests can’t be longer than 3,000 characters.
• Individuals aren’t eligible for the reduced fees available to media outlets, meaning that freelance journalists, and others, will have to pay extra when filing requests.
• Memos, emails, and other internal communications appear to be off-limits to requesters — a restriction that undermines government transparency.

While these terms of service might be improved going forward, the FBI has shown that it can and will arbitrarily change them without public comment.

Tell the FBI to keep its FOIA email up and running and to drop the arbitrary restrictions.

Freedom of information advocates have been fighting with the federal government over FOIA for a long time. And this isn’t the first time a government agency has spent taxpayer money to make public records less accessible.

Our federal government is harming so many communities — we need government transparency now more than ever.

Thanks for all that you do—

Fiona, Mike, Lucia and the rest of the Free Press team

P.S. Urge the FBI to make our government more transparent, not less.

Thank you!

We as a democratic republic cannot tolerate this. The government has to be transparent or the government will become tyrannical. That is why I am suggesting we also contact our Congressional Representative and our Senators and let them know about the FBI's conduct. The more of us they hear from the better.

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