City Of London Police Turn Down Torrentfreak's FOIA Request Because It Would Take Too Long To Fulfill

from the too-hard,-won't-try dept

The City of London Police (notably, not the London Metropolitan Police and you will rue the day you ever make that mistake) have been both a law unto themselves and the UK's foremost copyright cops… which would make them a copyright law unto themselves… or something. Name another law enforcement agency that has single-handedly done more to pursue the Pirate Bays of the world. I follow this sort of stuff pretty closely and no one else even comes close. Here's a very brief rundown of the City of London's efforts in the service of King Copyright.

- Ordered registrars to shut down websites (without a court order) and threatened to strip registrars' accreditation if they didn't comply

- Created a secret "pirate site blacklist" for advertisers

- Inserted banner ads on "pirate" websites stating the sites had been forwarded to the police for "review," all without any legal basis to do so

- Arrested the creator of an anti-censorship proxy service, basically because Hollywood told it to

- Claimed Tor is "90% of the internet" and a "risk to society." Also: "bitnet."

Torrentfreak (which follows this sort of stuff extremely closely) sent a FOIA request to the City of London police seeking correspondence with "representatives of the creative industry regarding the pirate bay also known as TPB, thepiratebay.se, thepiratebay.sx, thepiratebay.org, or Pirate Bay."

Forget all the nice things I said about the UK's more relaxed attitude towards Freedom of Information requests. (Well, not all of them. This is a police force that serves the copyright industry, not the UK government itself.) The response to Torrentfreak basically says that it would require making an expenditure of time and as such, falls outside the expense guidelines for FOIA responses.

“In order to establish the existence of any correspondence of this kind it would be necessary to examine all mail systems, all call logs and all files/documents held by the force,” the reply read.

“The cost of completing this work would exceed the limit prescribed by the Secretary of State in accordance with powers contained in Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act. The limit is currently set at £450 and the hourly rate is set at £25.”
If so, then any request that might require 18 hours of work will automatically be tossed out. On one hand, this almost seems like an admission that the City of London Police communicate frequently with representatives of creative industries. On the other, it seems like an easy way to blow off a request for information it's in no hurry to release.

This sends Torrentfreak back to the drawing board and raises serious questions about the City of London's computer system. (Then again, the assertions about "bitnet" and "the internet is 90% Tor" raise a few technology-related questions of their own…) Any correspondence system utilized by governments should be searchable, including anything archived. It's not as though this sort of technology is obscure and limited to entities with unlimited budgets. It's fairly basic stuff. But the City of London police maintains it's a job that would exceed the time budget and, therefore, Torrentfreak gets nothing.

Torrentfreak will be revising its requests in hopes of finding something that's not too time-consuming for the City of London police to tackle. If and when these are released, I'm sure they'll make for entertaining and enlightening reading, provided they aren't redacted into complete uselessness.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 1:05am

    They were to busy lining up a bust at a local playground where FACT heard children sing songs they heard on the internet without paying a performance fee.

     

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  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 1:11am

    “In order to establish the existence of any correspondence of this kind it would be necessary to examine all mail systems, all call logs and all files/documents held by the force,” the reply read.

    If they can't comply with that, and are making it out to be an insanely difficult process(rather than simply listing the email addresses for industry interests, searching for correspondence to and from them, and providing the results), it rather sounds like they are saying that they don't have a system at all to comply with FOIA requests.

    If it's really that difficult for them, and if difficult automatically equals 'request denied', then it sounds like they've basically said that they are immune to FOIA requests, because everything 'might' take long enough to hit the magic 18 hour limit.

    Speaking of the limit, can Torrentfreak file the same request, with the additional clause that once the work required hits the 18 hour mark, whatever's gathered so far at that point is sent over? Seems like that would be at least a passable workaround to the strict time limit imposed.

    In any case, I imagine this will be yet another case where the only way documents not heavily redacted or otherwise useless are provided, is if the one filing the request is willing to go to court over the matter.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Pete, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 1:35am

    Complaint

    to the ICO.

    The ICO FoI team are actually quite helpful, normally. They are very good at recognising this kind of nonsense, and getting reluctant public sector organisations to man up.

    The ICO Data Protection Racket, less so. They are a shameless waste of time.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 2:12am

    It won't be long until MP's start pulling this crap.

    "Hi, I'd like to request a FOI about how my taxes are spent."
    "Oh, it would cost too much, so we won't bother."
    "..."

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 2:45am

    Re:

    "All your taxes were spent responding to your request. Are you happy now?"

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 3:08am

    the City of London Police is headed, i believe, by a former entertainment industries lobbyist or something similar, so it's reasonable to expect he wont want to give out any information regarding orders received from his bosses.
    funny, however, that they have the time, the expenses and the man power to do all the illegal type of things they have done, as pointed out in the article, using their 'authority with a mix of threatening behavior'.
    also funny how they can find the time and funds to search out, include other police officers and travel to where someone is running a proxy to bypass sites blocked in the UK.
    we all know it's just excuses, but the government should not permit this sort of behavior just because it shows what influence the industries are having. if they weren't up to no-good, then the government nor the CLP wouldn't have anything to hide. and this brings in the saying by yet another MP from UK, 'if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear'!

     

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  7.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 3:32am

    Seriously? Shall we crowdfund their efforts then? They can't complain if that time is being paid for, right? Oh wait, taxes already pay for such work.

    Not surprising though, they'll go to great lengths to avoid accountability these days...

     

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  8.  
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    willy, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 4:05am

    FREE SCOTLAND

    and you wonder why scotland will leave the UK

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 4:09am

    We'll make it easy. Have you communicated at all with any representatives of the creative industry today?

     

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  10.  
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    Nemna, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 4:36am

    As someone who uses the Freedom of Information Act as part of my job for a non-profit, I can tell you that the legislation is imperfect. It can take a long time for information to be released because not only can the public authority take their time with little comeback, but the ICO itself is vastly under-resourced and very patient in waiting for the public authority to reply.

    I regularly read TorrentFreak, but in this instance I think they are being unreasonable, ill-informed and naive, and it's a shame that Techdirt reported the story so uncritically. The request was not limited by timespan or medium, and the search terms would require a human to physically read a lot of documents to determine whether they fell within the scope of the request. As such, it is quite reasonable for the public authority to say it would take too long unless the requester were willing to pay for them to carry out a wide-ranging fishing expedition.

    As a citizen I certainly want more transparency, but it would be an outrageous drain on the public purse for public authorities to be expected to respond to requests such as these without charge. Indeed, it would not just cost a lot of money, but the time people would need to take from their jobs to do it would be disruptive to a public authority carrying out its functions.

    Yes, there are valid questions about whether local authorities do enough to proactively release information (no they do not), whether they should store information in a manner appropriate for increased transparency (yes they should), whether the cost threshold is too low (there should be a higher threshold if the fault for it taking so long is the public authority not having a modern information regime in place), and whether they are too quick to refuse requests (in many cases they are). These all merit discussion, and would be suitable for a Techdirt article. However, under any reasonable system a request such as TorrentFreak's would be overly burdensome so this really is a storm in a teacup.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 4:46am

    I think we need some sort of easy to read/understand/digest flyer that can be passed out at movie theaters (preferably while dressed like a pirate) that calls out the copyright industry's behaviors.

    Something like:
    Hollywood LIES by changing the meaning of words to better suit their stance.
    Hollywood LIES by (other examples, numerous)
    Hollywood STEALS from the Public by locking up the Public Domain.
    Hollywood STEALS from artists through cooking their books AKA Creative Accounting.
    Hollywood KILLS free expression by issuing takedowns on anything that uses their works.
    Hollywood PLUNDERS by taxing and destroying creative advancements and innovations that compete with their business model.
    Hollywood CORRUPTS by donating to political campaigns and pressuring politicians in exchange for laws and regulations that favor them.
    Hollywood DESTROYS lives by pushing for unrealistic fines and punishments that are far worse than comparable crimes.
    (etc, there are a lot)

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 4:50am

    "I'd buy that for a dollar."

    How'z'about we all offer to pay into a fund to offset FOI requests worldwide? Wouldn't take many millions of us to prove the lie.

     

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  13.  
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    John Cressman, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 5:20am

    Perhaps...

    Perhaps it's too time-consuming because there are too many correspondences ... I wouldn't even be surprised to learn that Big Copyright has their own desks in the department.

    Maybe just requests all emails to and from bigcopyrighttaskmasters@londonpolice.co.uk?

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 6:04am

    "But...but...it's sooo much work. Also, we don't wanna..."

    OBEY THE LAW, BITCHES!

     

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  15.  
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    Michael, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 6:37am

    Can't the NSA just give us that information?

     

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  16.  
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    zip, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:11am

    pulling teeth

    Maybe Torrentfreak should try the strategy of approaching it from the other end. Rather than requesting info on mail dealing with The Pirate Bay (and noting where it's coming from) they should request to see correspondence specifically from BPI, IPFI, MPA, etc. -- and if necessary, submitting a separate FOIA for each one if the CoL police insist that typing any more than 4 letters in a search box before pressing "enter" will bust their budget.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:12am

    Re:

    Don't you mean where FACT thought it might happen, so they sent the FBI in to convince the kids to sing?

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:19am

    Re:

    The request was not limited by timespan or medium, and the search terms would require a human to physically read a lot of documents to determine whether they fell within the scope of the request.


    Surely it would be better to simply provide anything which is found by the raw search - i.e. anything to or from a non .gov.uk email address containing the specified keywords, and all replies to those messages.

    The specific email addresses and telephone numbers can be stripped out using a crude sed-like script, and if that removes something worthwhile inadvertently TorrentFreak can request that specific message be manually redacted.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    zip, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:36am

    Re: "non-profit"

    "... as part of my job for a non-profit ... I regularly read TorrentFreak ... I think they are being unreasonable, ill-informed and naive ... "

    Nemna, I'd be very interested in knowing just what kind of "non-profit" you work for.

    I ask this while keeping in mind that industry trade groups such as the MPAA, RIAA, and other self-serving propagandists are all technically "non-profit" organizations ... as well as (apparently) being avid (though hostile) readers of TorrentFreak.

    Coincidence?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:37am

    Re:

    But how many of these resources are used to for Hollywood , I'm sure they're eating up more man hours than a FOI request would , This makes The City of London Police a mercenary or terrorist organization whose services are being retained by only the highest bidder , when they are in fact being paid for with taxpayers money.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:44am

    Isn't the FOIA a US law?

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:45am

    Re:

    NM they finally got one too.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 7:58am

    Re:

    I'm sorry, but I can find no pointer to TF's actual FOIA request, so I don't know how accurate your representation of it as 'unreasonable, ill-informed and naive' is. However, TF's article says
    Since asking for all information shared between City of London Police and entertainment industry groups might be a bit much, we focused our FOIA request on The Pirate Bay.

    More specifically, we requested police correspondence with representatives of the creative industry “regarding the pirate bay also known as TPB, thepiratebay.se, thepiratebay.sx, thepiratebay.org, or Pirate Bay.”
    which sounds fairly reasonable.

    Do you have a link to the actual TF FOIA request?

     

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  24.  
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    nasch (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 8:02am

    Re:

    As such, it is quite reasonable for the public authority to say it would take too long unless the requester were willing to pay for them to carry out a wide-ranging fishing expedition.

    I agree, what I found disappointing is that the upper limit is 450 pounds. Was that set in 1850 and never updated or something? That is ridiculously low.

     

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  25.  
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    Rabbit80 (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 8:09am

    Re:

    Speaking of the limit, can Torrentfreak file the same request, with the additional clause that once the work required hits the 18 hour mark, whatever's gathered so far at that point is sent over? Seems like that would be at least a passable workaround to the strict time limit imposed.


    No - TF can't do that. However, they can break down the request into lots of smaller more specific ones - the plan as far as I can tell is to ask for 'just' the electronic documents first of all and then expand upon the search from there.

     

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  26.  
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    Jon Jones (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    "the City of London Police is headed, i believe, by a former entertainment industries lobbyist or something similar" - No. it isn`t. It is headed by Adrian Leppard who joined Surrey Police as a constable in 1984 - he has no links to the entertainment industry and has never been a lobbyist of any kind.

    Interestingly they do have a "Director of Corporate Services" - Eric Nisbett, which raises questions all of it`s own.

     

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  27.  
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    1st Dread Pirate Roberts (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 12:42pm

    Maybe July?

    Respectfully request police correspondence with representatives of the creative industry for the month of July 2014. [This month. Next month it will be August 2014.]

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Nemna, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re: "non-profit"

    Nemna, I'd be very interested in knowing just what kind of "non-profit" you work for.

    Sorry, I should have made it clearer. I work for an environmental non-profit. Absolutely no corporate funding, it's purely working in the public interest to protect the environment from corporate greed.
    I ask this while keeping in mind that industry trade groups such as the MPAA, RIAA, and other self-serving propagandists are all technically "non-profit" organizations ... as well as (apparently) being avid (though hostile) readers of TorrentFreak.

    Coincidence?

    I certainly do not work for an industry trade group or self-serving propagandist. Indeed, I spend far too much time trying to combat corporate propaganda. I certainly don't believe that TorrentFreak's request for information was vexatious or malicious. I think they genuinely wanted the information, and for good reason. The copyright lobby are far too powerful, and their damage to society and the economy is obvious, so of course TorrentFreak should be trying to keep an eye on it.

    So why did I speak up? Well, as someone who makes regular use of the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations I feel it my duty to speak out when it is being misreported on a website that I contribute to.

    Furthermore, I try to only make reasonable requests as I believe that this important right should not be abused. This is partly for fear that if the right is abused then that will be used as justification to weaken our right to information. As such, I do not want people to think that it is reasonable to make requests as broad and burdensome as that made by TorrentFreak, because then they may make similar requests and give the Government the excuse it wants to limit our rights.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Nemna, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm sorry, but I can find no pointer to TF's actual FOIA request, so I don't know how accurate your representation of it as 'unreasonable, ill-informed and naive' is...Do you have a link to the actual TF FOIA request?

    Unfortunately, TF did not publish their request. However, it should be noted that my criticism that TorrentFreak were in that instance being "unreasonable, ill-informed and naive" related not to the original request but to their complete failure to see why their request could have been overly burdensome in their reporting of the incident. They claim in their article that it does not make sense that it would take more than 18 hours if they have an archiving system, but given the broadness of the request it makes perfect sense.

    My view that their request was overly burdensome is based on the following:

    1. They did not limit their original search by medium. For example, limited only to e-mails or written letters. This is clear from the public authority's statement that it "would be necessary to examine all mail systems, all call logs and all files/documents held by the force" to respond to the request. That can be A LOT of information.

    2. They did not limit their original request by time. This is inferred from the fact that they did not say "we asked for correspondence from the last 12 months" or similar. It is possible that they did restrict the request to a broad time frame, but did not say so. They certainly did not restrict it to a narrow time frame as they noted that "The above response leaves us with no other option than to limit the request to...a narrow time frame". This could potentially mean it is over a VERY LONG time-scale, potentially involving information in long-term storage.

    3. They specified simply "the creative industry". Figuring out whether a given person is part of the creative industry might be reasonable for a small amount of correspondence, but if we're talking about them having to make such a determination for all correspondence ever made then that could be a lot of work, especially if some of it is paper-based so cannot be easily searched.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Nemna, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re:

    I agree, what I found disappointing is that the upper limit is 450 pounds. Was that set in 1850 and never updated or something? That is ridiculously low.

    I agree. The £450 threshold can be surpassed on a reasonable request simply because the public authority didn't put enough effort into properly storing their information. If the information is costly to find because they've not invested in doing things properly then that shouldn't be able to be used as an excuse to be less transparent. The money saved from reduced costs answering requests could then be a factor justifying investment in better information systems (rather than the potential for increased transparency being a factor weighing against investment in better information systems in public authorities who do not like being open to scrutiny).

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Nemna, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 2:04pm

    Re: Re:

    But how many of these resources are used to for Hollywood , I'm sure they're eating up more man hours than a FOI request would , This makes The City of London Police a mercenary or terrorist organization whose services are being retained by only the highest bidder , when they are in fact being paid for with taxpayers money.

    I agree that money is being wasted by being so heavy-handed with copyright enforcement, but two wrongs don't make a right.

     

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

  32.  
    identicon
    Nemna, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 2:24pm

    Re: Re:

    Surely it would be better to simply provide anything which is found by the raw search - i.e. anything to or from a non .gov.uk email address containing the specified keywords, and all replies to those messages.

    The specific email addresses and telephone numbers can be stripped out using a crude sed-like script, and if that removes something worthwhile inadvertently TorrentFreak can request that specific message be manually redacted.


    They can't do that as that isn't what was asked for. TF asked for ALL CORRESPONDENCE, so not just e-mails and things easy to search for. Even if it were just for e-mail correspondence, if it were not time-bound then it would cover older messages (e.g. from a decade ago) that might be time-consuming to retrieve from long-term storage. TF asked for communications with the vaguely defined representatives of a "creative industry", so a determination would be needed to see whether they were part of the industry and, if so, whether they were a representative of that industry. Furthermore, TF didn't just ask for it to contain the keyword "Pirate Bay" and aliases, they say it has to be "regarding" TPB etc, so again a determination needs to be made for both communications with and without the keyword whether it does regard the topic. It should also be noted that the time needed for redaction does not count towards the costs threshold.

     

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  33.  
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    Easily Amused (profile), Aug 26th, 2014 @ 5:44pm

    This is really not that shocking for CoL, if you take into account how the organization works. It is the most corporate-friendly government because corporations actually have the right to vote there, and dictate a supermajority of all council seats.

    CGP_Grey has a great short explanation of how the system works here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1ROpIKZe-c

    It's still despicable that they have the perceived power to do things like this, but given their political organization and the pressures derived from it, it is to be expected.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    zip, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 5:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: "non-profit"

    That's a good answer. Like the DMCA, the FOIA has sadly, been routinely abused by people who take a scattershot approach and don't seem to care what collateral damage they might cause. And that doesn't count all the people that aren't even sane or rational that the government is still forced to respond to.

    Just consider serial-filer (and delusional paranoid schizophrenic) Barbara Schwarz, who holds the world record for FOIA filings.

    http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Secrets/barbara_schwarz.html

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2014 @ 10:01pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    1) Most organisations I've worked for have had strict rules requiring us to log all official communication with outside entities, and in all but one of those organisations that log was a searchable database (the other still used a collection of ring binders with hand-written notes for phone calls, but that was a tiny non-profit).

    2) TPB has only existed since 2001, so even if the information is in long-term storage it should only be a matter of loading tapes.

    3) Here I agree they complied with the law, but IMO the law is clearly wrong on this point - the government should instead be required to say "we found this which is relevant, and we found that which might be relevant but we didn't have time to check it." (Obviously that needs to have a good-faith rule too, so that they can't just say "and here's a copy of the entire National Archives, something in there might be relevant, have fun.") However, what TF should have done was ask for all correspondence to outsiders, giving them more information and reducing the search work-load for the police.

    I also agree with one of the earlier posters, the law should require the responding agency to hand over whatever it does manage to find in time.

     

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


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