FOIA roundup: Major cities still stalling transparency over COVID, plus new FOIA resources

FOIA roundup: Major cities still stalling transparency over COVID, plus new FOIA resources

The latest on public records from the Freedom of Information frontier

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

In this week’s FOIA roundup, we highlight how COVID-19 is still delaying transparency in cities across America, even as its needed more than ever. Plus helpful resources for fighting for transparency from our friends at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and the FOIA Project.

For previous roundups, go here. Have news, a FOIA job opening, or something else we should have on our radar? Let us know!

Some major cities are still using COVID as a reason to delay requests

Many of the 50 largest cities have dropped their emergency orders, but more than a third are still telling requesters that COVID may cause delays in their records requests. See which ones on MuckRock.

The federal government will need to reevaluate what it charges for court records

A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will restrict the government’s ability to charge fees for access to electronic court records. Currently, individuals are charged 10 cents a page to access materials on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, fees which go beyond those necessary to fund “dissemination of information through electronic means” and instead also go to funding police and attorney use. Read more from Jordan Murov-Goodman at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

More private email accounts surfacing from within the Trump administration

According to a new book from Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, once advisor to Melania Trump, the First Lady has used a few different private email accounts and messaging apps to conduct official business, making her just the latest federal official to be outed for committing just the same faux pas that roiled Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Read more from Lauren Harper on National Security Archive’s Unredacted blog.

Former FBI operative’s memoir will be re-released today without the CIA redactions

Nine years after its first publication, “The Black Banners: How Torture Derailed the War on Terror after 9/11,” the memoir of former FBI agent Ali Soufan will be released in full. You can read more from Charlie Savage and Carol Rosenberg in The New York Times.

USDA is paying way too much for food-box programs

Public records reviewed by The Counter show that contractors to have been charging the U.S. Department of Agriculture for boxes of food meant to provide pandemic hunger relief but which sometimes don’t even make it to their destinations at all. Read more from Jessica Fu and H. Claire Brown in The Counter.

FERPA is no excuse to avoid disclosing college COVID numbers.

Privacy laws shouldn’t be used to withhold campus coronavirus data, even though some schools have tried. Read more from Meryl Kornfield in The Washington Post.

FOIA Resources

The FOIA Project launches the Brief Bank Initiative to expand access to FOIA-related court materials

The FOIA Project, for years, has been tracking and annotating federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, providing frequent updates on FOIA-related cases. Now they’ve begun a fresh effort to gather and share even more briefs and other legal documents associated with these suits. The initiative launched with 15 James Madison Project cases and documents. You can contribute by sending your case materials to Dr. Austin Kocher, TRAC Faculty Fellow, at is tracking federal agencies’ COVID-related hold-ups. You can contribute too., a collaborative resource on FOIA issues, has been tracking the status of FOIA processing during this COVID-19 response from different federal agencies. MuckRock has been making additions to the growing chart too, and you can also get involved. Check the FOIA Wiki policies before making changes to the chart here

Upcoming: 2020 NFOIC FOI Summit

The annual National Freedom of Information Coalition FOI Summit will be held virtually this year from September 24 - October 1 and will feature open government experts, advocates, and practitioners. You can learn more about it from NFOIC.

Fresh records releases

Recent records requests completed on MuckRock. For all completed requests, check out the full list here.

Have FOIA news, challenges, or successes that should be on our radar? Let us know!

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