Why did the Justice Department redact a smiley face from this FOIA request?

Cryptome files have examples abound of bizarre and unnecessary deletions

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Michael Morisy

Since March, Martin Peck has been FOIA-ing various DOJ components for their records on controversial online repository Cryptome.org.

Though most agencies have claimed not to have anything, there’s been a few interesting finds - such as Interpol’s copy of Cryptome-hosted report by the Government Accountability Office regarding diploma mills that redacts “undercover investigator” under the law enforcement privacy exemption …

despite the fact that 1) it leaves it intact in the previous sentence and 2) the full report is available unexpurgated online, both on Cryptome and the GAO.

Though to be fair, those reports don’t include this endearingly candid exchange:

The largest release so far has been from the Office of Professional Responsibility, consisting mostly of processing notes regarding the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s FOIAs to the NSA regarding oversight of its domestic spying program that ended in a lawsuit. Oddly enough, whatever role Cryptome plays in all this appears to have been redacted entirely.

OPM, for its part, seemed pretty eager to play ball with the EFF, and in hand-written notes, recommended full release:

Which lead to an exchange which lead to … this.

A closer look, if you will …

What is that? Is it someone’s name that dots their ‘i’s with googly eyes? Is it a particularly distinguishing doodle? Has “avoiding embarrassment” been added to the privacy exemption? Why leave the eyes?

While we’ll probably never get a satisfactory answer to any of these questions, at least there’s at least a silver lining - if FOIA is ever in the need of a plucky cartoon mascot, there couldn’t be a better candidate.

Read the OPM’s full response embedded below:


Image via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0