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Happy Sunshine Week: National Security Archive names E-Delinquents in 2015 E-FOIA Audit

Mar 17, 20154 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

DEA, Privacy and Civil Rights Oversight Board, Office of Science and Technology Policy were three of 33 federal agencies named as E-Delinquents in the National Security Archive's 2015 E-FOIA audit.

It’s Sunshine Week! In fact, it’s the 10th anniversary of Sunshine Week! To celebrate, let’s look at some Sunshine Week editorial cartoons for enjoyment purposes, as well as hopefully making it easier to swallow the not-so-happy new 2015 E-FOIA audit of 165 federal offices that was conducted by the National Security Archive.

Did you know it’s been 19 years since Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA)? Yet “only 40% of agencies have followed the law’s instruction for systematic posting of records released through FOIA in their electronic reading rooms.” To mark Sunshine Week, the National Security Archive published a FOIA Audit showing the best agencies as well as the worst. According to FOIA, agencies are supposed to have e-reading rooms where the public can inspect and copy agency records.

The agencies with the best FOIA e-reading room ratings are dubbed E-Stars, and the worst offenders are E-Delinquents. The National Security Archive reported that its Audit “found 17 E-Star agencies that have embraced Congress’s vision and are thriving. But we also found many who continue to bury their documents in an analog hole. 30 agencies have adopted just the bare minimum of Congress’s instruction to become digital; 33 agencies have not even done that.”

E-Stars within the federal government serve “as examples to lagging agencies that technology can be harnessed to create state-of-the art FOIA platforms.” The National Security Archive said:

E-Stars include the Departments of Energy and State, the FBI, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the agencies that have embraced the government’s opt-in FOIA portal, FOIAonline, which posts digital copies of FOIA releases. E-Stars such as the Department of State have shown that even agencies wracked by FOIA delays and deplorable record keeping can have a positive FOIA impact by posting their releases proactively.

The National Security Archive added:

The excellent search functionality of the Department of State’s agency-leading E-Reading Room will make State’s website a pleasurable platform to browse, search, and read portions of former Secretary Clinton’s emails — when they are released.

The National Security Archive 2015 FOIA Audit also names the worst of the worst, the “E-Delinquents whose abysmal web performance recalls the teletype era.” During President Obama’s first week in office, he promised more transparency and accountability, yet there was more secrecy year after year.

Of the E-Delinquent Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Security Archive said the agency “insults its website’s viewers by claiming that it ‘does not maintain records appropriate for FOIA Library at this time,’ which seems unlikely.”

The EFF also pointed at the DEA for having the most expensive FOIA estimate in history.

In March 2014, Muckrock user John Dyer filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records associated with the DEA’s involvement in capturing Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in Mexico. The DEA responded that they had identified 13,051 potentially relevant case files and they’d be happy to provide them as long as Dyer paid $1,461,712 in fees upfront for search fees.

Back to the National Security Archive’s E-Delinquents…with only a physical FOIA library, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission makes “it impossible for the public to view previously requested records.”

Then there’s the “National Protection and Programs Directorate, a component of the Department of Homeland Security,” which “appears to have no FOIA page. Period.”

The National Security Archive has a chart with five color codes to indicate agencies’ performance, ranging from the best E-Stars, honorable mention, agencies needing improvement, agencies that meet the bare minimum requirements and the E-delinquent losers. You can see them all – including the 33 agencies color-coded in red – but let’s send a shout out to two of the E-Delinquents.

Way to go Privacy and Civil Rights Oversight Board! It claims to be “committed to the protection of civil liberties and privacy in the nation’s efforts against terrorism,” but apparently the agency can’t be bothered with meeting the 1996 E-FOIA requirements; instead, if you want to know about records, then your FOIA requests must be faxed or emailed to the agency tasked with oversight for your civil liberties and privacy.

Office of Science and Technology Policy, way to be innovative! There are reports on the number of FOIAs received, processed or pending, but you can neither view nor search the FOIA releases as those FOIAs aren’t online. The National Security Archive pointed out, “Despite being mandated to advise the White House on technology policy, OSTP fails to embrace 21st-century FOIA practices and does not post frequently requested records online.”

Happy Sunshine Week!

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.