Homepage changes

Alexander Rony filed this request with the Bureau of Land Management of the United States of America.
Tracking # 2017-00524
Est. Completion None
Status
Awaiting Appeal

Communications

From: Alexander Rony

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

Emails from April 3 to April 10 regarding changes to the BLM's homepage's "hero" image. Please search the Office of the Director and the Office of Communications (except for the Legislative, Regulatory Affairs, and Intergovernmental and External Affairs teams).

The requested documents will be packaged as news and made available to the general public. This request is being made on behalf of the public interest, and not for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, please inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,
Alexander Rony

From: FOIA, BLM_WO

Hello Mr. Rony,

Our FOIA office received your FOIA request, dated April 11, 2017. We have
assigned it control number 2017-00524. Please cite this number in any
future communications with our office regarding your request. In your
request you asked for the following:

"Emails from April 3 to April 10 regarding changes to the BLM's homepage's
"hero" image."

We have classified you as an “other-use” requester. As such, we may charge
you for some of our search and duplication costs, but we will not charge
you for our review costs; you are also entitled to up to 2 hours of search
time and 100 pages of photocopies (or an equivalent volume) for free. See
43 C.F.R. § 2.39. If, after taking into consideration your fee category
entitlements, our processing costs are less than $50.00, we will not bill
you because the cost of collection would be greater than the fee collected.
See 43 C.F.R. § 2.49(a)(1).

We use Multitrack Processing to process FOIA requests. The Simple track is
for requests that can be processed in one to five workdays. The
Normal track is for requests that can be processed in six to twenty
workdays. The Complex track is for requests that can be processed in
twenty-one to sixty workdays. The Exceptional/Voluminous track is for
requests requiring more than sixty workdays for processing. The
Expedited track is for requests that have been granted expedited
processing. Within each track, requests are usually processed on a
first-in, first-out basis.

This request falls into the Complex track. Even though we normally process
requests on a first-in, first-out basis, because of the nature of your
request and the circumstances surrounding this request, we will prioritize
and process your request as the records become available.

If you have any questions, please contact us at BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov or
202-912-7650. Thank you for your interest in public lands and in programs
and activities of the BLM.

Thank you,
Maritiza Harris

[image: Inline image 1]
Washington Office FOIA Coordinators
Bureau of Land Management
Phone: 202-912-7650
Fax: 202-245-0027
*BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov <BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov>*

From: Alexander Rony

Dear Ms. Harris,

Thank you for responding to my request (control number 2017-00524). What was the rationale behind the determination placing this request in the Complex track? I am only looking for one week's worth of emails about one very specific item. I would be open to clarifying the scope of the request to make your search easier, so long as it still meets my original purpose.

As for my requester status, I often forget that the platform I am using (MuckRock) can disguise my organizational identity. I work at a nonprofit organization (the Sierra Club) where I analyze and disseminate information gained from FOIA requests with our audience and others in the news media. The Sierra Club is a national environmental nonprofit with no commercial interest in obtaining the requested information. Instead, our organization intends to publish relevant information free of charge to the public, so that people can be better informed and meaningfully participate in protecting our nation's natural resources.

The subject matter of the requested records is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government by disclosing how the Bureau of Land Management views its core mission. The change in image on the BLM's homepage caused many citizens, journalists, and government watchdogs to question if the agency was signalling a shift in approach to its work. The BLM maintains vast acreages of land with multiple purposes, and the balance that the agency places between preservation and mineral extraction is of great concern for many citizens, including our audience. Here are three articles that demonstrate that this specific request is in the public interest:

http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/shifting-message-after-depicting-coal-blm-features-fishing/article_a04ce87c-8323-5a5c-aca3-27f85fac607e.html
http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/articles/conservation-or-coal-the-bureau-of-land-managements-shifting-priorities-w476767
http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/07/politics/bureau-of-land-management-website-photo/

The Sierra Club and its supporters have demonstrated interest and expertise in the subject area, specifically the development of policies designed to safeguard the natural environment and properly manage the impact of fossil fuel extraction. Our supporters have filed hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of public comments related to these threats.

The Sierra Club also has the ability and intention to disseminate the information it receives through this request. The information may be shared through emails to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people, Facebook and Twitter posts reaching thousands of individuals, articles on our website, and analysis provided to the media. Here are three examples of my work that relate to the latter two items:

https://sierraclub.org/planet/2017/04/hiring-freeze-prevented-epa-filling-hundreds-jobs
http://www.sierraclub.org/compass/2016/10/members-distance-themselves-alecs-climate-policies
http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/4480/over-700000-people-tell-government-to-block-seed-mergers

Please let me know if this added context qualifies me for a media requester status and/or public interest fee waiver, as well as the rationale for any determination to the contrary.

From: FOIA, BLM_WO

Hello Mr. Rony,

We are currently reviewing the records for your request.

​Thank you,
Maritiza Harris​

[image: Inline image 1]
Washington Office FOIA Coordinators
Bureau of Land Management
Phone: 202-912-7650
Fax: 202-245-0027
*BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov <BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov>*

From: FOIA, BLM_WO

Hello Mr. Rony,

Please see the attached letter and responsive documents.

Thank you,
Maritiza Harris

[image: Inline image 1]
Washington Office FOIA Coordinators
Bureau of Land Management
Phone: 202-912-7650
Fax: 202-245-0027
*BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov <BLM_WO_FOIA@blm.gov>*

From: Alexander Rony

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION APPEAL

To Whom It May Concern:

This is an appeal of the June 20, 2017 response to FOIA Number 2017-00524. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) provided 22 pages of responsive documents, but withheld another 36 pages under Exemption 6. It appears that the 36 pages are being withheld because some aspects could be used to personally identify several individuals, and without a strong enough case by the requester (i.e., me) for a public interest, the BLM decided that the harm to personal privacy outweighed the benefit to the public.

I will first address the personal privacy argument. The BLM's response stated, "The information that has been withheld under Exemption 6 consists of personal username and passwords, phone numbers, and emails. We have determined that the individuals to whom this information pertains have a substantial privacy interest in withholding it."

The FOIA provides agencies with the ability to redact portions of records and release the remainder to the requester when FOIA exemptions apply. Indeed, the 22 pages that were released have contact information redacted. I do not need the usernames, passwords, phone numbers, or emails for any individuals in order for my initial request to be fulfilled. With that personally-identifiable information redacted on the remaining 36 pages, the privacy interest is significantly reduced if not eliminated.

The BLM response stated, "you have not provided information that explains a relevant public interest under the FOIA in the disclosure of this personal information and we have determined that the disclosure of this information would shed little or no light on the performance of the agency's statutory duties."

It is impossible for me to argue about the value of the information contained in the 36 pages when their substance was not adequately described to me. It seems unlikely that these documents would consist of nothing but usernames, passwords, phone numbers, and emails, given that without additional context those documents are unlikely to have appeared on their own in a search related to the homepage image change. So the context of what those pages are and how they relate to the homepage image is itself relevant to my request.

There is a clear public interest in the topic of this request as well as the materials already released in the 22 pages. As noted in the responsive documents, the BLM's homepage image change attracted the attention of multiple news outlets (including NBC News, Mashable, the Huffington Post, and Reuters) and national environmental organizations (such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace). The large amount of press attention that was generated by the BLM's website image selection demonstrates that the public has an interest in the issue. Though a statement was provided to the media in response to reporters' requests for comment, internal emails released for this request showed officials' policy rationale for the image change, which is an additional layer to the story that has often been reported as an assumption.

The subject matter of the requested records is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government by disclosing how the BLM chooses to communicate its mission, how it responds to external public relations events, and what coal-related policy shifts are underway at the agency. The 22 released pages help to answer these questions, so I assume the 36 unreleased pages would supplement this knowledge.

The Sierra Club and its supporters have demonstrated interest and expertise in the subject area, specifically the development of policies designed to safeguard our public lands and reduce irresponsible coal mining. The Sierra Club maintains an active coal program with many staff and volunteers who weigh in on administrative actions. Our supporters have sent hundreds of thousands of letters and public comments to the federal government regarding the use of coal. We are a nonprofit with no commercial interest in this disclosure; we plan on analyzing the documents and disseminating our findings to the public, free of charge.

I appreciate the responsive records that have been provided, and I urge the BLM to provide me with the remaining 36 pages after redacting the personally-identifiable information. With the redaction, the public interest outweighs the hopefully-resolved privacy claims.

Thank you,

Alexander Rony
Sierra Club
(415) 977-5739
alexander.rony@sierraclub.org

P.S. I strongly prefer to be contacted through the same method as my FOIA request, as it helps with my tracking system.

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