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Open Government

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. -- James Madison

EPIC FOIA Gallery

EPIC FOIA Litigation Manual

EPIC FOIA Cases

EPIC FOIA Notes

Scanned Images of Selected Documents Obtained Under FOIA

Top News

  • EPIC Succeeds in Fight Against Protective Order in FOIA Case: A federal judge has vacated provisions in a prior order that would have limited the ability of FOIA requesters to disseminate information to the public. EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security after the agency failed to respond to a request for documents about a plan to monitor internet traffic. In arguments before the court, the Department of Justice contended that EPIC should agree to a protective order that would prevent EPIC from disclosing documents obtained in the case. EPIC challenged this argument, stating that it was contrary to FOIA law and that the use of protective orders in FOIA cases would make it more difficult for the public to obtain information about government activities. Judge Kessler agreed with EPIC and discarded the protective order requirement. She also chastised the agency for its repeated delays in processing EPIC's FOIA request. The case is EPIC v. DHS, 12-333. For more information see: EPIC v. DHS - Defense Contractor Monitoring. (Jan. 9, 2013)
  • FOIA Ombudsman Sides with EPIC, DHS to Revise Fee Procedures: Following a detailed complaint from EPIC, which stated that the DHS "is throwing up roadblocks" by withholding fee waivers that should be granted, the FOIA Ombudsman has announced significant changes that will assist all DHS Freedom of Information Act requesters. Beginning October 1, 2012, the DHS will conditionally grant fee waivers if the request is likely to qualify for fee waiver. EPIC had objected that previously the agency did not grant waivers even when it knew the requester was likely to qualify. Second, DHS will inform non-commercial requesters that they are entitled to two free hours of search time and 100 free pages of duplication. Previously, the agency did not inform requesters of this legal right. Third, when fees are imposed, the agency will now provide requesters a detailed breakdown of costs. EPIC President Marc Rotenberg praised the work of the FOIA Ombudsman and acknowledged the changes at DHS. "Congress made clear that the fee waiver provision promotes access to public information. These changes are consistent with that important purpose," said Mr. Rotenberg. For more information, see EPIC - Open Government. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Senate Passes Faster FOIA Act: The Senate unanimously approved bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), to improve Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing. The Faster FOIA Act will create an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs and provide recommendations to Congress. The bill awaits action by the House of Representatives. EPIC previously testified before the House Oversight Committee about FOIA delays and politicized processing within the Department of Homeland Security. For more information see: EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Senate Unanimously Passes Faster FOIA Act: The Senate has unanimously approved bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX), that will improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Faster FOIA Act will establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests and provide recommendations to Congress for legislative and administrative action to enhance agency processing. The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives for consideration. EPIC testified earlier this year in a House Oversight Committee hearing on the need to strengthen FOIA. For more information, see EPIC: Open Government. (Jun. 1, 2011)
  • Faster FOIA Act Moves Forward in Senate: The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing. The Faster FOIA Act will create an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs and provide recommendations to Congress. EPIC recently testified before the House Oversight Committee about FOIA delays and politicized processing within the Department of Homeland Security. For more information see: EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws. (Apr. 12, 2011)
  • EPIC: DHS Review of FOIA Requests is "Unlawful": EPIC testified today before the House Oversight Committee hearing "Why Isn't The Department Of Homeland Security Meeting The President's Standard On FOIA?" The hearing examined the DHS's political review of open government requests. The DHS "Awareness" program singled out FOIA requests for additional scrutiny by political appointees based on the subject of the requests and the identities of the requesters. EPIC Senior Counsel John Verdi called the program "uniquely harmful" and "unlawful." He pointed to Supreme Court precedent and the additional delay in FOIA processing. Also testifying at the hearing were the DHS General Counsel, the DHS Chief FOIA Officer, and the DHS Inspector General. For more information, see EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Litigation under the Federal Open Government Laws 2010. (Mar. 31, 2011)
  • EPIC to Testify at House Oversight Hearing on FOIA: EPIC Senior Counsel John Verdi will testify before the House Oversight Committee on March 31, 2011 regarding Homeland Security’s political review of FOIA requests and the effects of the agency’s policies on requesters. The hearing arises as the AP reports that DHS career staff repeatedly questioned the political review policy. This report also follows an earlier release of 1,000 agency documents revealing the long-standing process of vetting FOIA requests by political appointees. In a previous letter to the Committee, EPIC and a coalition of open government groups wrote that FOIA does not permit agencies to select requests for political scrutiny. For more information, see EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Litigation under the Federal Open Government Laws 2010. (Mar. 28, 2011)
  • EPIC Publishes 2011 FOIA Gallery: In celebration of Sunshine Week, EPIC published the EPIC FOIA Gallery: 2011. The gallery highlights key documents obtained by EPIC in the past year, including records detailing the privacy risks posed by airport body scanners, agency plans to expand the scanner program to non-airport locations, FBI abuse of surveillance authorities, and the Federal Trade Commission's failure to investigate Google Street View. EPIC regularly files Freedom of Information Act requests and pursues lawsuits to force disclosure of critical documents that impact privacy. EPIC also publishes the authoritative FOIA litigation manual. For more, see EPIC Open Government and EPIC Bookstore: FOIA. (Mar. 14, 2011)
  • Supreme Court Affirms Open Government, Limits Exemptions: In Navy v. Milner, the Supreme Court held that the Freedom of Information Act’s “Exemption 2” is limited to employee relations and human resources issues. The decision overturns previous decisions by lower courts that applied the exemption to broader categories of records, allowing federal agencies to block disclosure of documents to the public. The Court stated that this practice contravened Congress’s intent. The Court emphasized that Congress intended all nine FOIA exemptions to be construed narrowly. EPIC is currently challenging the use of Exemption 2 in its lawsuit to force disclosure of records concerning full body scanners at airport checkpoints. The Court's decision in Navy v. Milner demonstrates that the Department of Homeland Security is improperly withholding information about the scanners from the public. For more information, see EPIC-Milner v. Dept. of Navy, and EPIC: OPEN Government. (Mar. 7, 2011)
  • Chairman Issa Subpoenas Homeland Security Officials about FOIA Practices: Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued subpoenas to two Department of Homeland Security employees for depositions to take place on March 7 and March 8. Rep. Issa has undertaken an investigation of DHS’s policy of submitting FOIA requests to political review. EPIC and a coalition of open government organizations sent Rep. Issa and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) a letter supporting the investigation. The political review policy came to light after the release of over 1,000 agency documents revealed a long-standing process of submitting FOIA requests from watchdog organizations to review by political appointees. EPIC has also recommended that the FOIA Ombudsman undertake an investigation of this practice. For related information see EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Litigation under the Federal Open Government Laws 2010. (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • EPIC Publishes Open Government Litigation Manual. Today, EPIC published the 2008 edition of "Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws." It is the most comprehensive, authoritative discussion of the federal open access laws. The 24th edition of this standard reference work features updated content and a foreword by Senator Patrick Leahy, co-sponsor of the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The book contains the texts of the US open government laws, including the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Government in the Sunshine Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Today's publication date celebrates International Right to Know Day, which was established to raise awareness of every individual's right of access to government-held information. For more, see EPIC's 2008 FOIA Litigation Manual. (September 26, 2008)
  • Supreme Court Rejects Limits on FOIA Requests. In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court upheld the right of individuals to request documents under the Freedom of Information Act, even if similar documents were previously requested by others. The Court rejected the Federal Aviation Administration's contention that it may ignore requests if the agency previously received identical requests from different requesters. The Court also rejected the agency's "virtual representation" claim, that a FOIA requester can be "virtually represented" by a previous requester who sought similar records. The Court based its decision on America's "deep-rooted historic tradition that everyone should have his own day in court." For more information, see EPIC's FOIA Litigation Manual and FOIA Litigation Docket. (June 13, 2008)
  • EPIC Prevails in Virginia Fusion Center FOIA Case. Yesterday, Richmond General District Court held that EPIC "substantially prevailed" on the merits of its freedom of information lawsuit against the Virginia State Police. EPIC filed the case after the State Police refused to disclose documents describing the federal government's involvement in efforts to limit Virginia's transparency and privacy laws. Through the litigation, EPIC uncovered a secret contract between the State Police and the FBI that limits the rights of Virginia citizens to learn what information the State Police collect about them. The court's letter opinion requires the State Police to pay EPIC's litigation costs, but not its attorneys' fees. For more information, see EPIC's web page EPIC v. Virginia Department of State Police: Fusion Center Secrecy Bill. For more information about fusion centers, see EPIC's Fusion Center Page (May 9, 2008)
  • EPIC Seeks Documents About Federal Role in Effort to Limit Accountability of State "Fusion Centers". EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) with the Virginia State Police today. EPIC's request seeks documents about a plan that would shroud the Virginia Fusion Center, a database that collects detailed information on ordinary citizens, in secrecy. The Virginia legislature is considering a bill that would limit Virginia's open government and privacy statutes, as well as Virginia's common law right of privacy, for Virginia agencies connected to the Fusion Center. Press Groups have criticized the proposed law, and warned that, if passed, Virginia citizens can "say hello to Big Brother." EPIC's FOIA request focuses on the possible role of the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Homeland Security in the development of the Virginia legislation. For more information, see EPIC's page Information Fusion Centers and Privacy. (Feb. 12)
  • President Bush Signs into Law OPEN Government Act. On Monday, December 31, 2007, the President signed into law S. 2488, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007, which amends the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by: (1) establishing a definition of "a representative of the news media;" (2) directing that required attorney fees be paid from an agency's own appropriation rather than from the Judgment Fund; (3) prohibiting an agency from assessing certain fees if it fails to comply with FOIA deadlines; and (4) establishing an Office of Government Information Services in the National Archives and Records Administration to review agency compliance with FOIA. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) led the effort in Congress to enact the new open government law with the support of the Open the Government coalition. EPIC publishes Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws. (December 31, 2007)
  • Congress Passes OPEN Government Act. Congress has passed legislation that would amend the Freedom of Information Act for the first time in a decade. The OPEN Government Act would impose meaningful deadlines on agencies handling information requests, establish a FOIA hotline, bring government records held by private contractors into full public view, create a FOIA Ombudsman, and allow agencies to waive FOIA fees for freelance journalists and bloggers. The bill also reverses a presumption against disclosure that was created by an order of former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Senator Patrick Leahy led the efforts to enact the new open government law. For more information, see EPIC's FOIA Notes and Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws. (December 19, 2007)
  • FTC Chair Dismisses Recusal Petition in Jones Day-Doubleclick Conflict of Interest Case, EPIC Files Expedited Open Government Request. FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras has refused to step down in the Commission's review of the Google-Doubleclick merger even though it was revealed this week that her husband's law firm is representing Doubleclick. EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy have issued a statement. EPIC has also submitted a detailed Freedom of Information Act request seeking the expedited release of all documents concerning the participation of Jones Day in the Commission's review of Doubleclick as well as other matters involving consumer privacy. (December 15, 2007)
  • EPIC Publishes 2006 FOIA Manual. Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws, published by EPIC in cooperation with Access Reports and the James Madison Project, is a comprehensive guide to FOIA and open government, essential for anyone interested in open access laws. The book draws upon the expertise of practicing attorneys who are recognized experts in the field. The twenty-third edition includes a new chapter on searching for records, international open government resources, a glossary of key terms, and is updated with new significant cases. (October 4, 2007)
  • EPIC Introduces 2006 FOIA Gallery. In celebration of Freedom of Information Day, EPIC is proud to introduce its 2006 FOIA Gallery, which contains highlights and scanned images of some of EPIC's most interesting FOIA disclosures from the past year. For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, see EPIC's Open Government page. (March 16, 2006)
  • Open Government Advocates Honored. EPIC General Counsel David Sobel and Advisory Board member David Burnham are among the twenty-one individuals to be inducted today into the National FOIA Hall of Fame. Inductees are chosen for their "unique roles in helping to establish, defend, and utilize the legal basis for the right to know." (March 16, 2006)
  • EPIC, Archive File Brief Supporting Release of Abu Ghraib Photos. EPIC and the National Security Archive have filed an amicus brief (pdf) urging an appeals court to permit the disclosure of photos and digital movies showing American troops abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Pentagon has refused to release the information to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that it would "endanger the life or physical safety" of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. EPIC and the Archive argue that the government is turning FOIA on its head by claiming that information likely to expose government misconduct should be withheld to prevent public outrage. (March 13, 2006)
  • Court Orders Justice Department to Release NSA Surveillance Documents in EPIC Lawsuit. In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (pdf) filed by EPIC, a federal judge has ordered (pdf) the Department of Justice to process and release documents related to the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program by March 8. It is the first court opinion addressing the controversial domestic spying operation. "President Bush has invited meaningful debate about the warrantless surveillance program," U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy wrote. "That can only occur if DOJ processes [EPIC's] FOIA requests in a timely fashion and releases the information sought." For more information, see EPIC's press release and Domestic Surveillance FOIA page. (February 16, 2006)
  • EPIC Files Second Lawsuit for NSA Surveillance Documents. In a Freedom of Information Act complaint (pdf) filed today in federal court, EPIC is seeking the release of National Security Agency documents detailing the Administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. EPIC filed a similar lawsuit (pdf) last month against the Department of Justice, which has played a key role in authorizing, implementing and overseeing the NSA's warrantless surveillance activities. A hearing in that case is scheduled for February 10. For more information, see EPIC's Domestic Surveillance FOIA page. (February 6, 2006)
  • EPIC Sues Justice Department for Domestic Surveillance Documents. Today EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (pdf) against the Department of Justice, asking a federal court to order the disclosure of information about the Administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program within 20 days. The Justice Department has played a key role in authorizing, implementing and overseeing the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance activities. EPIC argues in its court papers (pdf) that the debate surrounding the program "cannot be based solely upon information that the Administration voluntarily chooses to disseminate." For more information, see EPIC's press release and Domestic Surveillance FOIA page. (January 19, 2006)
  • EPIC Sues Justice Department for Misconduct Reports. EPIC filed suit (pdf) in federal court yesterday against the Department of Justice for reports of possible misconduct submitted by the FBI to the Intelligence Oversight Board. EPIC is also seeking documents from the Attorney General about possible misconduct within the intelligence community. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has been assigned to the case. EPIC has already obtained about twenty reports to the Intelligence Oversight Board through another Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that raise questions about compliance with federal law. For more information, see EPIC's Patriot Act FOIA page. (January 11, 2006)
  • EPIC Introduces EPIC FOIA Notes, 2005 FOIA Gallery. In celebration of Freedom of Information Day, EPIC has launched EPIC FOIA Notes, a newsletter that will deliver the latest revelations EPIC obtains through the FOIA. You can view the first EPIC FOIA Note-which reports formerly classified documents showing that Choicepoint assured the FBI it could verify legitimate businesses-and subscribe to the newsletter here. EPIC is also proud to introduce its 2005 FOIA Gallery, which contains highlights and scanned images of some of EPIC's FOIA disclosures from the past year. (March 16, 2005)
  • Senators Propose Bipartisan Bill to Study FOIA Processing Delays. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the Faster FOIA Act, legislation that will create a sixteen-member advisory commission tasked with suggesting ways to decrease delays in the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests. The bill is the second proposed by the Senators in three weeks to improve the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security will hold a hearing on the OPEN Government Act on March 15. (March 11, 2005)
  • Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Enhance Open Government. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the OPEN Government Act, a bill that will improve government accountability by strengthening federal laws such as the Freedom of Information Act. EPIC is among the many groups supporting this legislation to encourage access to the federal government. (February 16, 2005)

Legal Documents on FOIA and Access to Government Information

Guides to Using FOIA

Other Open Government Resources

Suggestions

If you have suggestions for a FOIA request that EPIC should pursue, send us a message. Indicate the information you think we should ask for, the reason that the request is important, and the name of the federal agency (or agencies) most likely to have the documents. Anonymous suggestions are always welcome.