Take the poll! Should FOIA requesters see responsive documents before they go online?

Three years ago, I polled investigative journalists about a conflict between their competitive interests and their principles. Here’s the question:

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The responses I received were thoughtful, varied and conflicting. Some saw competitive advantage in having the story for a few days. Beyond the selfish interests of keeping a story away from competitors, they pointed out a brief delay between the time a requester receives responsive information and the time the documents go online allows a reporter the time sometimes needed to convey a complex story accurately.  Others argued the documents are public and should be available to all, not just the single requester. For a journalist to argue otherwise is hypocrisy, some pointed out. In addition, some noted that with certain requests the requesting journalist likely has background needed on the topic to quickly find the important parts of documents, so those free riders are already at a disadvantage trying to scoop the story.

Since my informal survey in 2010, the government has built tools to make it easier to release responsive documents online at the time they are sent to the requester. Congress is considering FOIA legislation that would move the executive branch toward the creation of a single portal for agencies to receive and respond to FOIA requests.  EPA already has built a robust system that would accomplish that and more.  So the question is ripe: should there be a delay between the time the FOIA requester receives her documents and the time those documents go online?

What’s your take? Take the poll or email us.

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