In a new light: FOIA and a photographer’s records

For Ernest Withers, taking pictures while marching in the Civil Rights Movement helped him document his experience, but a FOIA request from a Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter, inspired by an anonymous tip, revealed that Withers had another role during that turbulent time: federal informant. The reporter and assembled panelists will discuss Withers and FOIA’s role uncovering this hidden history at an event at the National Press Club next Thursday, October 10. Withers, who had been a WWII veteran and one of Memphis’s first black police recruits before opening his own photography studio, used his access as a freelance photographer to [More]

Curious about surveillance? FOIA has answers.

Many Americans are curious about electronic surveillance by the federal government. Conveniently, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has already helped provide some answers. Although much of the interest and attention arises from journalism in recent days (here, here, here, and here, and related stories), America has had various agencies conducting various forms of surveillance for various purposes for years. For over a decade, journalists have been using FOIA, among other means, to learn more about the surveillance capacities and activities of the federal government:

FOIA stories: 600 and counting

The SGI “FOIA Files” database has surpassed 600 entries, a testament to the persistence of journalists and the hard work of agency personnel who process Freedom of Information Act requests.  This database is a collection of news and other stories that relied on a FOIA request to inform the public. In the last year, FOIA has enabled the public to understand more about the politics and policies that shape people’s lives: The recent financial crisis and its ongoing impact on the economy: #592: “How Hank Paulson’s inaction helped Goldman Sachs” (10/10/10) #615: “Morgan Stanley Speculating to Brink of Collapse Got [More]

Some context for some surveillance

When news broke recently that federal officials were pushing for new regulations to facilitate online eavesdropping (“U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet”, New York Times, September 27, 2010), it seemed like there were two ways to interpret the situation: Did the proposed powers represent a significant change from the status quo? The administration’s proposal… would require reconfiguring of the Internet to provide easier access to online communications. —ACLU Or did the proposed powers merely enable law-enforcement officials to continue doing what they had been doing? We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability [More]