FOIA Reform We Don’t Need: Blocking Foreigners From Using FOIA

from the this-is-just-culture-war-against-transparency dept

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) system needs plenty of useful reforms to actually work correctly and properly. Despite limited time frames in which the government is required to provide information, they often take years. They regularly redact stuff they shouldn’t. Or refuse to hand over documents they are required to. Generally speaking, the government is not a fan of the kind of transparency that is not just required under the law, but necessary for a functioning government that the public trusts.

Of course, rather than fix any of that… we now have Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, both of whom have been overshadowed by the bigger, louder, more ridiculous culture warriors in their party, planning to limit FOIA requests only to American citizens, permanent residents and US companies.

Rubio and Cotton are pretending that there’s a problem here of foreigners clogging up the FOIA system and threatening our national security. Except that’s nonsense. There’s already a FOIA exemption for national security reasons. And various FOIA experts all seem to be in universal agreement that this bill is at best, performative nonsense, and at worst, leading us down the path of less transparency at a time when we need more.

This would be a major change in FOIA to achieve what seems more like a political talking point than anything else,” said Bradley Moss, a partner at the firm Mark S. Zaid P.C.

Kel McClanahan, the executive director of National Security Counselors, a nonprofit law firm, said the bill could undermine a key precept of FOIA, known as “release to one, release to all.”

“Once a document has been released under FOIA, it cannot be withheld from another requestor,” McClanahan explained. Under Rubio and Cotton’s bill, that standard would no longer be universal.

The legislation “would either not do anything useful,” he said, or it would be a “toe in the door to get rid of other things like release to one, release to all.”

As FOIA expert Lauren Harper highlights, none of this makes any sense at all:

Politics today seems almost entirely dominated by performative nonsense that actually makes the public worse off.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “FOIA Reform We Don’t Need: Blocking Foreigners From Using FOIA”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
ECA (profile) says:

At best?

Arnt we supposed to know what our own gov. is doing?(secrets act, dont read it)
Insted they bury documents so that no one can see WHO voted on what, for 20-40 years after all the MAIN idiots are dead, or no LEGAL process can be done?

I find that others around the world have a better picture of whats happening IN the USA then we do. We have become a closed society, that even closed to our OWN government, even tho/those we are SUPPOSED to be responsible FOR our government.

Cspan was an interesting idea, but its failed. most of the stuff on it, has little to do with whats happening in the Backrooms.
Even when we have this POWERFUL internet with all the info you Might ever want(edited to make you feel good) its not telling us everything. Not even the full amounts that our Congress is getting paid by the corps.

Naughty Autie says:

…planning to limit FOIA requests only to American citizens, permanent residents and US companies.

Fair enough. After all, as a Brit, I contribute nothing to the US economy except when purchasing Grape Fanta, Berry Fanta, A&W Root Beer, Hot Tamales, Hot Tamale flavoured Marshmallow Peeps, Moon Pies, Cherry Coke, Mountain Dew. Hang on, I have as much damn right after all!

Anonymous Coward says:


Rubio and Cotton are pretending that there’s a problem here of foreigners clogging up the FOIA system and threatening our national security. Except that’s nonsense.

It’s worse than nonsense. It is already useless. MuckRock – for example – already provides a clearinghouse for FOI requests and their responses.

A foreign entity gives MuckRock a request, MuckRock gives it to the relevant agency. Voila, a request from a US citizen.

If Cotton and Rubio object to MuckRock “nationality-washing”, then private citizens can step into the gap. Even if a citizen is asking “on behalf of” a foreign entity, it is still a request from a citizen, for information to be delivered TO that citizen. Denying that request just because some foreigner ALSO wants that information is not going to fly.

If they were serious, they’d establish a clearinghouse of their own such that once released, they could simply give the URL to the released documents, to the next requester. … and age-of-request, lack of litigation, and lack-of-specificity will do all the additional hiding they could ever ask for.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

US... Companies.... Yeah...

…only to American citizens, permanent residents and US companies…

Anyone can form a US company. That person doesn’t have to be a citizen, a resident, or even visit the US to do it. It’s not just the US, either. I once had a Belize corporation (much more than a company). I’ve never been to Belize.

If the “exception” to preventing these furrinerz from availing themselves of laws that should provide equal rights and equal protection, putting in this loophole just gutted anything it was [never] going to achieve.

Of course I’m not surprised the second stupidest senator (after Sheldon Whitehouse) is part of it. Cotton is a blustering buffoon and a disgrace to any genome that resembles our human ones.

Rubio continues the long line of Floridian traitors who take their marching orders from ancient people still shaking their fists at [now dead] Fidel Castro and ensuring that the US continues its pointless 60 year “embargo” that did nothing, does nothing, except drive money from morons to moron Rubio.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...