Emma North-Best

I’ve been thinking about how a searchable database of FOIA requests would be an amazing tool, but a brief sampling of the PDF logs posted on the electronic reading rooms shows that many of them are photocopy PDFs without any real OCR, which would make extracting the information endlessly time consuming.

Any advice on how to file requests for FOIA logs information in a format that’ll be easier to extract and manipulate?

Jack R-W

You can ask for the data in machine readable format, but I don’t know of any statutes that would require them to honor your request.

Russ Kick

If the agency already has their FOIA logs in a nicely searchable format - such as a spreadsheet, database, or even a Word doc - they must send you that file upon request. Under the terms of the E-FOIA Amendments of 1996 (which added new features to the FOIA), an agency must send documents in digital form if it’s relatively easy for them to do so, and what could be easier than emailing an XLS or MDB file as an attachment? Thing is, you should request the logs in these formats and be sure to remind them of Section 5 of the E-FOIA Amendments.

The National Security Archive explained this requirement: “More significant is the amendment (sec. 5) requiring agencies to provide information ‘in any form or format requested,’ including in electronic form, ‘if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format.’” http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nsa/efoiacom.html

Of course, the FOIA logs must already exist in one of these formats in order to be released. One of the requirements of FOIA is that a requested document must already exist. Agencies don’t have to create a document for us, even if they can, although occasionally they will.