DHS Tells Records Requester It Can't Find Documents It Posted To Its Own Website

from the weaponizing-your-tax-dollars dept

Government agencies large and small, federal and non-federal, are aggressive non-participants in the free flow of information. Laws enacted to force the government to be responsive to records requests have made it possible to obtain documents from agencies, but this can often take the form of long, expensive legal battles.

When not deterring public records requesters with insane fee demands or years of stonewalling, the government plays keepaway with documents by playing the role of insane, cackling villains, casting aside logic and goodwill in equal parts to assure the public remains ill-informed and well-screwed.

Here are just a few highlights from the government’s non-goodwill tours:

It is in this spirit of non-cooperation that we bring you the following, via FOIA warrior Emma Best and MuckRock: if something is always in the last place you look, why not check your own website first?

In late February 2017, the Trump Administration took some of its earliest steps towards implementing a new border wall policy with an executive order and several memos issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership. In response to the policy, MuckRock filed a FOIA request for “memos relating to executive orders signed by Donald Trump,” including but not limited to memos described in a specific article.

Just under 17 months later, DHS responded with a letter saying that they were unable to find any such memos. Despite these claims, two of the memos which DHS said they were unable to find had already been posted to their website.

As Best points out, this isn’t just an embarrassing failure by the DHS’s FOIA response team. A couple of easily-avoidable errors is one thing. Ongoing antipathy that results in this sort of under-service is a symptom of a bigger problem.

While DHS’ failure to provide copies of already publicly available memos may appear to be an amusing annoyance, their response to the FOIA request highlights the agency’s general failing with FOIA. There’s no reason to believe that these were the only two DHS memos relating to Trump’s executive orders, since no policy can be fully implemented by just two memos. The DHS’ failure to find copies of already public documents brings their search process into question for both this particular FOIA request as well as FOIA requests in general.

This is being appealed, with Best making the understated suggestion the DHS’s search attempt wasn’t very thorough by pointing it to the two memos posted at its own website. But even if the DHS had found the memos under its nose, it’s still stiffing requesters by pretending there’s nothing else guiding its monumental shift in immigration enforcement priorities. This is bad faith by bad actors who apparently feel it’s their duty to keep the public in the dark.

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Comments on “DHS Tells Records Requester It Can't Find Documents It Posted To Its Own Website”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Hanlon's Razor

It’s not like they would miss a security concern, they would just ask the FBI to make one up. Then, if one came along that they did in fact miss, and having failed to get the FBI to create it, they would either call it fake news or point fingers elsewhere. Like maybe a whistle-blower who failed to blow the correct whistle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bad Record Responding to FOIA

My favorite FOIA tale is from the FBI. A number of years ago, someone requested a public impact assessment of drones from the FBI. By its very nature, this is a public document. The FBI responded with an almost totally redacted 50-ish page document. When the requester later asked for an unredacted copy of the document, the FBI said it had no record of this document.

What is the Government afraid of??

Ya Vol says:

Nazi Labels?

Who comes up with fascist terms such as Homeland? The native americans?

The USSA has become a strange amalgam of Third Reich & Stalinist terms with such things as forced psychiatric confinement/examinations for alluding to the truth, and legal prosecution of anyone who dares to be critical of the naked emporer, and pursuit of foreign interference in elections even though its own systems have been suspect since Day One.

Wyrm (profile) says:

This reminds me of Michael Moore’s movie Sicko.
In a short interview of an health insurance agent, the description of the insurance company’s response to claims was “always say no at first, don’t even look at the content of the claim; only read the claim if the customer threatens litigation; even then, try to fight back against paying anything”.

Here, FOIA-subject agencies seen to work in the exact same way. “Wait until the legal deadline; reply that nothing was found, no need to even check what was requested; if the requested threatens litigation, reply with the bare minimum possible, or even less; if actually sued, fight back with any excuse on the book.”

It doesn’t matter that the documents are Ajay public, if you start giving the public even this, they will feel entitled to much more.

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