Fighting for government records is sometimes like:
… a game of Battleship, but where you have to go to court to force your opponent to tell you whether you even grazed his aircraft carrier.
… finding yourself at the doors of the Forty Thieves’ cave, except that you have to rap out “Open Sesame” in Morse code with your forehead just to get a peek at the treasure.
… ordering a book from an online store then having to wait 10-30 days just to hear back that the store can neither confirm nor deny whether your item is in stock.
… running the hurdles at the Olympics, but with Droid Kafka and his bureaucrobot army laying down new stretches of barricades every time you think you’re about to cross the finish line.
For every over-the-top simile we can think up to describe the struggle for transparency, we can name an even more ridiculous, real-world attempt by government officials to withhold records that rightly belong to the public. And yet, EFF and accountability advocates everywhere keep pushing back, because sometimes you win and it makes a difference in the world.
This year, EFF is setting out to recognize the most outrageous responses to Freedom of Information Act and state open records act requests. We’re calling it The Foilies and we need journalists, citizen watchdogs, and transparency activists to submit nominations for these dubious honors.
You should feel free to name your own Foilies categories. For example, if the Department of Defense claimed a national security exemption in response to your FOIA request for lunch menus, you might suggest a category for “America’s Most Dangerous Cafeteria.” But we also have several categories already in mind, such as:
Absurdly Over-Redacted Documents
Egregious Copying Fees
Extraordinarily Long Wait for Records
Silly Legal Arguments in Public Records Lawsuits
Wrongest-Headed Anti-transparency Legislation
EFF staff will select the cream of the crop (or maybe the bottom of the barrel) for the most compelling stories of FOIA and public records shenanigans, which we’ll roll out during Sunshine Week (March 15 – 21).
Who Can Nominate: Anyone, regardless of whether you were involved in filing or litigating the FOIA or public records request or not. If you’ve got the original documentation—great! If you only have a news story or blog post to refer to—equally great!
Deadline: All nominations must be received by Feb. 20, 2015.
Eligibility: All nominees must have had some event happen in the public records battle during calendar year 2014.
How to Submit a Nomination: Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org with “FOILIES 2015 NOMINATION” in the subject line. You can nominate multiple entries in a single email, just make sure to enumerate the nominations so we can easily separate them.
Format: Each nomination should look like this:
Category: One line category title
Description: No more than 200 words succinctly explaining the public records issue and why it deserves a Foilie. Please include this in the body of the email. (We’ll use this to winnow down the nominations and may cite the text during Sunshine Week.)
Links: Include any links to stories, records, or other information that will help us better understand the issue if we decide to read beyond the 200-word description.
Attachments: If you have the original FOIA/public records request and subsequent correspondence to support the nomination, please include it with the email (within reason: if it’s larger than 10mb, just include the most important parts). We may seek this information out separately later.
Attribution: Let us know if we can attribute the nomination (including the description text) to you and, if so, how you would like to be named (name, Twitter handle, etc.).
Contact details: Include a way for us to reach you with further questions. This information will remain confidential.
We’re on a tight turn-around schedule. Get your nomination to us by Feb. 20 and we’ll endeavor to have the results back to you within 30 days.