How do I get around high FOIA request fees?
If you file a FOIA request, there’s a relatively good chance the response will come back asking for large fees. At the federal level, it’s not uncommon for fees to go into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, adding up as FOIA processors total in fees for pages copied, search time, and even legal review time as it pays lawyers to determine what not to release.
What are your favorite strategies for fighting high FOIA fees?
I always recommend ignore going for the Public Interest Fee Waiver, which often agencies push back upon, and going for a Media Fee Categorization, which generally wipes out most or all fees.
One way is to always ask for digital versions of documents to avoid copy fees. Sometimes they’ll still charge for a CD, but you’ll get around some sometimes outrageous copy fees.
I like to include one of two paragraphs in my requests, something like this depending on the circumstances:
“I believe that all of these documents should be readily available to your office in electronic format and that there should be no charge to fulfill this request.”
or if it’s going to be messy
“I’m willing to pay up to $x for the fulfillment of this request. If the charges are going to be more than this, please inform me before continuing with the processing of the request and provide a detailed breakdown of estimated costs.”
The second one saved me one time when the clerk processed a request and put a $100+ price tag on it. I appealed noting the original text in my request saying I wasn’t going to pay more than $10 without getting details. They granted a partial waiver of fees in this case.
Some more strategies:
- Asking for why the fees are so high and a breakdown of costs.
- Appealing for a public interest or media fee waiver, if applicable.
- Reducing scope of the request or breaking it into smaller requests.
- Seeing if they have compiled similar information into other reports that answers your questions (for example, instead of all arrest documents, maybe they compile a list of the stats you’re actually interested in)