Year in FOIA 2018: The year in Projects

Year in FOIA 2018: The year in Projects

Written by
Edited by JPat Brown

MuckRock Projects brings together in one place resources on topics that need a longer look. With the ability to include articles, crowdfunding, public records requests, context, and solicit reader feedback all in one spot, Projects help reporters, researchers, and the public jump into and share investigations and subjects.

This year, we launched new features to make Projects easier to use - like the ability to bulk upload requests to a particular Project and our audience-feedback Assignment tool - and new Projects to make using public records and exploring our democracy more straightforward. We’re looking forward to improving the platform in the next year, as we better integrate with our new partner DocumentCloud and develop new features based on your feedback. But in 2018 we were made very proud by our users, partners, and reporters, who all helped to start some terrific investigations and resources. Take a look at some of the ongoing work.

Great User Projects

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women - A graduate student at the University of Lethbridge, Annita Lucchesi is compiling an independent database of the indigenous women who have been killed or disappeared without consequence. Using MuckRock’s crowdfunding feature, she was able to raise almost $2000 from individuals looking to support her efforts, which will allow her to file over 650 new requests to police departments and law enforcement agencies.

Polygraphs and Lying Eye Detectors - Mark Harris was one of our 2017 Peter Thiel fellows and, in 2018, he continued to use MuckRock Projects to keep track of his other investigations for Wired, including into polygraph machines and Conversus.


America Bids on Amazon - Online shopping website Amazon threw cities across the country into a tizzy when it announced its search for the home of its newest headquarters. After receiving bids from over 200 towns and areas in America, the company declared last month that two locations would share the new operations hub: Virginia and New York City. You can check out the bids that didn’t make the cut and many more

Street-Level Surveillance: ALPR Campaign - Police departments in every state are using automated license plate readers (ALPR) to scan cars and share their location data with hundreds - maybe thousands - of other government agencies. In partnership with Electronic Frontier Foundation, we released information of hundreds of data-sharing agreements, and we’re still requesting more information based on your feedback.

Algorithmic Control: Automated Decision-making in America’s Cities - This month, MuckRock and the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law (RIIPL) announced a collaboration on a new reporting and research project about local government use of big data, artificial intelligence, and algorithms. You can help us look into the use of algorithms in policymaking but dropping us a message.

Private Prison Project - Private prisons experienced a big year amid tensions and detentions at the border, efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico’s prison system post-hurricane, and continued use by state and local governments. As we move into 2019, there are plenty of ways you can help the project.


MuckRock makes a book. - As part of our ongoing Subjects Matter Project, comprised of Federal Bureau of Investigation files, we released our first book, a collection of writers’ FBI files, first as a self-published project with Harvard Book Store and then as a nationally-available, find-it-in-your-local-book-store offering through MIT Press. You can also orders copies of Writers Under Surveillance through your friendly MuckRock store.

Concerning the CIA - Since our 2016 win against the CIA for its unclassified CREST archive, we’ve been regularly writing about the many new records now available online to the public. This year, we published 87 more stories diving into the archive, including a guide to the CIA’s use of exemptions, a new look at CIA contacts with other agencies, and the CIA’s tips for the holidays.

Work on your public records game

State of State Public Records Laws - Jessie Gomez, MuckRock’s inaugural Sam Whitmore Fellow, has been working to gather the latest public record troubles, tips, and tricks from experts in multiple states, and you can find all of the latest by following this project. Interested in things more closely related to developments and records use in Massachusetts? Follow the Sunshine Spotlight: Massachusetts project or, better yet, sign up for our newsletter and get updates delivered right to you every other week.

FOIA 101: Tips and Tricks to Make You a Transparency Master - Trying to get familiar with the requesting process? This year, we gathered our guides and cheat sheets into one spot, so you get acquainted and caught up on the FOIA process.


We launched a number of Assignments to allow our readers to more easily engage with our materials and provide leads to the local angle on our investigations.

Hundreds of people helped dig through Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing files, Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes (released after a lengthy fight by National Security Archive), J. Edgar Hoover’s handwritten notes, FCC complaints, and Ronald Reagan’s FBI file. Over 400 submissions to our ALPR project will help bring that investigation to many more communities.

Others gave their feedback on our projects on the Trump administration, Phone Calls from Prison, CIA Contacts, College Cola Contracts, Municipal Investments, Nonconsensual Pornography, and State Public Records Laws.

Next year and beyond

We’ll be carrying these projects into the new year and your feedback is always valuable. Check out our open Assignments and let us know how we can look into issues in your town or scan all of our ongoing projects.

MuckRock’s Year in FOIA: 2018

How our transparency community grew this year

Biggest stories of the year

State law rundown

Sunshine Spotlight: Massachusetts

The top five top five lists of the year

Image via US National Archives Flickr