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FBI Tells Me It Will Take 475 Days For It To Get Around To Responding To My FOIA Request

from the well-isn't-that-nice dept

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires that federal agencies respond to FOIA requests within 20 days. If it needs more information, the government agency is allowed to wait for you to respond and not count that against the 20 days. The law does provide for a situation where, “in unusual circumstances” the 20 day period can be extended with a specific notice explaining the “unusual circumstances,” but “no such notice shall specify a date that would result in an extension for more than ten working days.”

Back in April, I sent the FBI some FOIA requests concerning the FBI’s public stance on encryption — which is kind of a big deal right now, given that the FBI is giving mixed messages on encryption. Director James Comey is out there pushing the panic button over people encrypting their mobile phones, while older FBI recommendations suggested that encrypting your mobile phone could protect your information from those with malicious intent. So it seemed quite reasonable to find out what kinds of talking points the FBI had put together on encryption, as it seemed rather important to the very timely debate about whether or not tech companies should be forced to backdoor encryption.

I submitted the FOIA requests on March 27th. On September 10th — which is 167 days later — the FBI finally responded, telling me that it expected to get to my request about 300 days later, or approximately 475 days from when it was first submitted. It was addressed (typo-wise) to “God morning.”

God morning,

We have received your request for an estimated date of completion. The search for records is ongoing or, the search has yielded responsive records and those records have been forwarded to the backlog, where it awaits assignment to a Government Information Specialist (GIS). Estimated dates of completion are based on the median processing time of large requests. Accordingly, the estimated date on which the FBI will complete action on your request is 475 days from the date of your request.

Please contact me if you require further assistance.

Thank you,

In other words, the FBI may finally get back to me sometime in the fall of 2016. While it’s entirely possible that the debate about encryption will still be going on by then, it seems like this tidbit of information would be better served if it could be seen and debated by the public today rather than a year from now, when there’s a good chance the crux of this debate will be over.

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Comments on “FBI Tells Me It Will Take 475 Days For It To Get Around To Responding To My FOIA Request”

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27 Comments
Sam says:

sue

This delay violates the statute and is clearly “excessive”, so it constitutes a denial in and of itself. So you can immediately file an appeal to the head of the FBI, and if you receive no response within 20 days, you can sue them in federal court. Since you cite a public interest in the timely resolution of the request, you can even move for the court to process the lawsuit expeditiously. See http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/what-are-your-remedies-under-foia.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Stalling at it's finest

It’s not like the request was for anything complicated, it was just to get their public stance on encryption. That they estimate it will take over a year to respond is a pretty clear sign that they’re stalling, rather than just giving a simple answer that might come back to bite them.

If they admit that their ‘public stance’ is encryption is good, then they can’t very well expect to be taken seriously if they try and undermine it.

if they admit that their ‘public stance’ is that encryption is bad, then they’ve now got to deal with the fact that they’re claiming that better security is a bad thing, and all the fun that entails.

radix (profile) says:

Re: Stalling at it's finest

I find it rather reasonable. Given all their hedging and flip-flopping over the past 6 months, they are simply projecting another 10 months to decide on their stance.

IOW, they can’t pass along their public stance on their encryption because they don’t have one, and won’t for 300 days.

But expect a delay of another 5 months at that time, when a new administration will take office and probably change the stance again.

Anonymous Coward says:

How is the FBI able to act with such obfuscation and flagrant disregard of the law? Is FOIA on its way out where these agencies no longer even pretend to follow the law they’re bound by?

It appears this is just another example of why people are more and more mistrustful of the FBI. If you can’t even follow a simple FOIA process within the established criteria, why should anyone listen to them and their anti encryption rant/attempt at policymaking.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How is the FBI able to act with such obfuscation and flagrant disregard of the law?

To answer that you need ask but one simple question: Who would hold them accountable? Anyone with the ability to do so also has a vested interest in keeping the ability to stonewall and/or ignore FOIA requests intact, so of course the FBI or other government agencies feel safe showing such blatant contempt for FOIA documents, they have no reason to respect the law that allows them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The fact that he has to seek judicial redress at all is the issue here. He quite literally requested the public stance of a government agency on an issue of public policy. There isn’t a more innocuous use of FOIA requests than that.

And of course, when you say “private right of action to seek judicial redress,” what you mean is that anyone with the free time to spend at the courtroom, and the money to pay lawyers and court costs can spend the next year in the court systems to get the information released. No punishment for blatantly breaking the law will be given at any level, and since the majority of people don’t have the time and money, the majority of people won’t even be able to do this much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The criteria seems to be pulled out the “behind” of politicians wishing to look good. It is not followed, since the time it sets is unrealistic.

That the current procedure should take more than 200 days seems to be completely unpriotized and thus even worse than if FBI had a more reasonable deadline to follow. The politicians should probably look at ressources allocated vs. expected use, priority of issue and from that derive reasonable deadlines. As it is now, the priority is extremely low since the law is unrealistic to follow, the ressouces allocated are constantly under pressure since the priority is extremely low and the deadlines are thus completely depending on what the department feels comfortable promising.

Rich Wallick (profile) says:

FOIA has been a bad joke

Took me over five years and an attorney to get the USDA National Organic Program to release request FOIA documents. The USDA went from “no responsive documents” to over 10,000 pages. Among other things they were hiding was the fact that most USDA Organic foods coming from California and certified by CCOF were grown using synthetic fertilizers from 2000 till 2009 and that synthetic fertilizers usage was know since 2004 yet nothing was done.

“Our” government has been pretty well completely co-opted by our oligarchy.

GEMont (profile) says:

Make it so.

While it’s entirely possible that the debate about encryption will still be going on by then, it seems like this tidbit of information would be better served if it could be seen and debated by the public today rather than a year from now, when there’s a good chance the crux of this debate will be over.

Amazing how similar that statement is to the statement made to the government employee who is handling the request, by his boss, who said;

While it’s entirely possible that the debate about encryption will still be going on by then, it seems like this tidbit of information would better served us, if it is not seen or debated by the public until a year from now, when there’s a good chance the crux of this debate will be over.

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