Request for communications with Congress regarding certain legislation (Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence & Analysis)

Sean Vitka filed this request with the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence & Analysis of the United States of America.
Tracking #




From: Sean Vitka

To Whom It May Concern:

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

To whomever it may concern,

This is a request for all communications between your agency and Congress or Congressional staff that include one or more references to any of the following pieces of legislation:
1) H.R.2048, USA FREEDOM Act of 2015;
2) S.1123, USA FREEDOM Act of 2015;
3) H.R.3361, USA FREEDOM Act (2013 and 2014);
4) S.2685, USA FREEDOM Act of 2014;
5) S.1599, USA FREEDOM Act (2013);
6) H.R.3773, FISA Amendments Act of 2008;
7) S.2248, FISA Amendments Act of 2008; or
8) the "Massie-Lofgren amendment" to the Defense Appropriations bills of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Demand Progress requests a complete fee waiver because it is a member of the "news media," because disclosure of the requested information is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government, and because Demand Progress has no commercial interest in the requested documents. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(II).

News Media Status:
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has elaborated upon the definition of "news media," holding that “a representative of the news media is, in essence, a person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience.” D.C. district courts have found that online publications count for FOIA fee purposes.

Demand Progress is an incorporated non-profit organization that regularly publishes information of public interest (see, especially with regards to surveillance, transparency, government accountability, and corruption. Demand Progress employees investigate government corruption and secrecy and work to empower the public and other news media organizations with information. The requested documents, which the requester will editorialize and publish, will contribute to the public's understanding of the government's efforts to impact surveillance legislation and the information on which members of Congress based their votes.

Public Interest Fee Waiver:
In addition to the news media status determination, Demand Progress requests a full fee waiver because "disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii)

The subjects of the records requested here concern government operations and activities, in particular agency contacts with Congress that may have informed or swayed political offices on matters of accountability, surveillance, and transparency. The records would contribute to public understanding of these activities by revealing the arguments and information presented to the political offices about the referenced pieces of legislation. Such improved understanding would be significant because these records are not currently public and because the political debates around these pieces of legislation relied heavily on undisclosed information and, like most legislation, on agency input. The requester, meanwhile, has no commercial interest in the documents, and therefore the public interest in disclosure of these records is far greater than the requesters' commercial interest in them.

As an example of the requester's past efforts and current intentions with regard to the requested documents, one of the requester's employees (Sean Vitka), who is pursuing this request, is an experienced journalist who has written dozens of articles that are freely accessible to the public (including articles that expressly deal with these pieces of legislation, such as: and The requester's past and future authorship is and will be in the public interest as it informs the public debate around surveillance, especially surveillance of Americans, and such articles will continue to be free to the public. As an example of the public interest such authorship has served, the requester's article in Ars Technica (linked above) was the first free resource where the public could access the government's arguments against the defendant, Basaaly Moalin, which were the first time the government argued in court that the telephone metadata dragnet conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act could be applied across all Americans without violating any individual's expectation of privacy. The requested records will be used to author such articles for news outlets and is not made for commercial purposes.

Based on the above, the requester is both a representative of the news media and this request merits a full waiver of searching and duplication fees because it is made "in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii).

The requester also asks that these records be provided in electronic format.

We welcome communication about this request if further discussion would assist in the search and release of the requested records. Please feel free to contact the requester by email at or by phone at 570.798.7678.

Thank you,
Sean Vitka

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would 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.


Sean Vitka


Good morning,

Please provide us with the FOIA number that was sent in your acknowledgement email.

FOIA Officer
Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)
(202) 447-3783

From: Sean Vitka

This is the first response we've received from your office. Please consider this a new request.


Good afternoon Mr. Vitka,

Please find attached a final response to your DHS I&A FOIA request 2017-IAFO-00155.


FOIA Officer
Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)
(202) 447-3783