The DHS Says 'No' To Requests For Public Affairs Contact Numbers; Hysterically Cites 'Privacy' Concerns

from the surely-public-affairs-numbers-should-be-public,-non? dept

Not to continue to beat on this dead horse of administration promises, but statements were made about adopting a "presumption in favor of disclosure" when it came to Freedom of Information Act requests and a general mindset of "transparency" was supposed to be on its way, washing away 8 years worth of privacy erosion and compartmentalization.

But, privacy continues to be a one-way street paved with tax dollars. The Department of Homeland Security, which has expressed an interest in securing all information ever from U.S. citizens, is apparently concerned that releasing phone numbers for its Public Affairs department would result in a horrendous breach of privacy:

Some federal agencies post the office phone numbers of public affairs staff on their websites.

Not the Department of Homeland Security, which believes their release poses "a clearly unwarranted invasion" of employee privacy.

That was the department's response when it denied a Federal Times Freedom of Information Act request for the office phone numbers of its official spokesman. Personal privacy exemptions to FOIA are more commonly used to block disclosure of personnel or medical files.
This isn't an exception to the rule. Despite the clear wording of the 2009 directive, which instructed executive branch agencies not to withhold information just because they could, the end result has been an uneven distribution of compliance and stonewalling.

And it's not just intelligence agencies doing the stonewalling. The U.S. Post Office has also given FOIA requests the extended runaround:
In late 2009, for example, Federal Times asked the U.S. Postal Service for five years worth of data on its use of "standby time," when employees are paid to do nothing. Almost two years later, the Postal Service responded last month by withholding the information on the grounds it was covered by the "trade secrets" exemption. But along with that response, the Postal Service enclosed a copy of a recent inspector general's report that contains some of the same information Federal Times was seeking.
So much for "trade secrets." I'm sure that while FedEx and UPS would have enjoyed seeing the downtime numbers, they probably would have done little more than laughed at the USPS's inefficiency. And apparently the "trade secrets" weren't so secret that they couldn't be released through other channels.

But there is a ray of sunshine in all this mess (albeit, a ray swiftly being covered in black ink). The DHS finally responded to the FOIA request for Public Affairs phone numbers, in a way that only an intelligence agency could with a straight face:
The agency eventually released a 58-page directory of public affairs staff, but redacted every phone number under the privacy exemption.
Of course! Here's the information you requested! Please note that all of the information you've requested has been withheld! No refunds! An explanation of the decision to redact all of the requested information was delivered by Mary Ellen Callahan, head black marker wielder (Chief FOIA Officer) for the DHS:
"In many cases, information that identifies individual DHS employees does not directly shed light on the operations or activities of the government, and FOIA officers should withhold it," Callahan wrote last year. She added, however, that senior-level officials "have a lesser expectation of privacy than lower-level administrative employees."
If you can't even get the phone number for a PR flack, all hope (and some of the change) is lost. Great job, DHS!

(H/T to Radley Balko.)



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    The Department of Homeland Security know how to do that and be good humorists.

    It would actually be fun if it wasn't that sad that ironic. I think they are doing that on purpose and laughing silently at our outrage...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Matthew (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:15am

    Government...

    Government of the government, by the government, for the government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    hothmonster, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:20am

    well Timbo, PA actually stands for Private Asspionage and PR is Private Reconnaissance, so you see the info is clearly not for the public

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Scooters (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:43am

    Could be worse, Tim.

    The page could display the phone numbers but the DHS would then sue readers for copyright infringement as they jot them down on a separate piece of paper.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:52am

    Wow. Isn't the whole point of a PA Department that you can contact them and they do damage control?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    Overcast (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 11:36am

    *which believes their release poses "a clearly unwarranted invasion" of employee privacy*

    Privacy?

    Those phones are paid for by taxpayer dollars.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    iamtheky (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 11:49am

    Office of Public Affairs: 202-282-8010

    http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/contacts/

    The rejection is kind of odd in form, but just because they wont give you the number to every desk of every individual is not the great injustice being painted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 3:46pm

    Re:

    I think your missing the point. So much for open government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 5:14pm

    DHS = Old People's Shit-piss

    It's that simple. Nothing more to see here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Oct 14th, 2011 @ 1:42am

    Despite the clear wording of the 2009 directive, which instructed executive branch agencies not to withhold information just because they could, the end result has been an uneven distribution of compliance and stonewalling.

    Why do people keep coming back to that directive? It was a lie, like virtually everything Obama promised in order to trick people into voting for him. It was nothing more than a dog & pony show to try and placate people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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