Farm Bill Update: Showdown looms on FOIA’s balanced protections versus special interest

Senator Charles Grassley is again poised — as soon as today, although the timing is far from clear — to present a broad exemption that would set a bad precedent for the administration of FOIA.  We recently wrote about our temporary win. The proposal would exempt from disclosure the GPS coordinates of farms as well as basic contact information for owners and operators of farms and food processing facilities. Such entities are corporations, although Sen. Grassley and others are arguing that these locations are both businesses and individual residences, thus they deserve special privacy protections. We strongly believe that the [More]

Successful fight to stop farm bill secrecy — for now

Senator Patrick Leahy and open government groups have stopped at least for now the Grassley amendment that would bar disclosure of basic phone directory information for owners and operators of livestock and poultry processing facilities and farms.  We explained our concerns about the provision quickly, other groups weighed in as well, and Senator Leahy’s worked diligently to explain the ramifications of this seeming milquetoast provision to his colleagues, and it became clearer that the proposal had problems.  We appreciate the delay to afford open government groups the opportunity to work with Senators Grassley and Boxer to find a better approach [More]

Livestock owners’ “phone directory” info should not be covered with blanket of secrecy

(Updated 5/23/13 at 1:18pm) Corrected 5/23/13 at 1:30pm The full Senate is taking up the farm bill (S. 954), and one amendment three amendments (Amendment 970, 1011 and 1097) from Senator Charles Grassley contain nearly identical language that would eliminate basic “phone directory” information from disclosure, including the name, address, contact info (including email address), GPS coordinates and other identifying information of livestock owners and operators. They claim it’s a defense against domestic terrorism. The EPA in the last few weeks released such information under FOIA to one (or more) environment groups. That release was criticized by some in Congress. However, [More]

FOIA Online goes live; new tool to track FOIA requests, responses

Journalists who regularly use the federal FOIA will complain bitterly about lost requests, long delays and agency responses that give no indication whether and when the agency will actually turn over documents.  But a new system that went live October 1 promises to make it easier on agencies and requesters alike to keep track of requests and make the FOIA process more efficient. The new system, called FOIA Online, allows anyone to search pending FOIA requests and documents already released as the result of previous FOIA requests, submit a new FOIA request to an agency, track requests, see the status [More]

Anticipating FOIA requests & the oil spill: an update

Here’s an update on our earlier post urging agencies to affirmatively post online documents, videos, images and other information about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico before a FOIA request comes in. It was a quick post, and it would have been a better piece if we had described what agencies have done to post information online. BP operates a joint information center where many agencies, including the Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), post information.  The joint website also includes BP and Transocean, which runs the Deepwater Horizon rig where the accident [More]