by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
foia, journalism, nasa, personal info

NASA Tells MuckRock FOIA Requesters They'll Have To Start Providing Their Home Addresses

from the citing-nothing-but-the-feeling-this-is-probably-a-legal-requirement dept

FOIA clearinghouse MuckRock has been on the receiving end of government antipathy before. Local government agencies aren't happy the service is able to work around location restrictions by offering proxies for out-of-state requesters. So far, this hasn't done much to slow the flow of public records to MuckRock.

MuckRock users have been thwarted individually, mainly with FOIA fee requests ranging from $270,000 to $660 million. Various agencies have also cut MuckRock out of fee exemptions, claiming the service just isn't journalistic enough to avail itself of fee waivers.

Dell Cameron of the Daily Dot reports a federal agency has decided to screw MuckRock users by making it more difficult to make requests. It's not one of the expected enemies of transparency, however. It's one that's been historically very easy to work with.

The National Aeronautics Space Administration has begun rejecting public records requests from users of FOIA request-filing service MuckRock, which doesn’t provide what the agency calls a “personal mailing address,” even though the requirement appears to have no basis under the law.

This came in response to the Daily Dot's request for documents related to President Trump's "media blackout" order, where federal agencies were told to route everything -- including social media posts -- through the administration. In its denial of the Daily Dot's request, NASA specifically called out the FOIA clearinghouse as somehow being in violation of nonexistent FOIA requirements.

Last week, following nearly two months of back and forth, NASA formally denied the Daily Dot access to any records—which may or may not exist—related to White House decrees affecting its use of social media and other forms of communication. The request, filed less than a week after Trump’s inauguration, was sent using MuckRock’s online submission system and contained MuckRock’s mailing address. “Please be advised, that everyone submitting a FOIA Request via Muckrock, who are not a staff members [sic] must provide their personal mailing address when submitting a requests [sic],” NASA’s FOIA officer, Josephine Shibly, wrote in a letter to the Daily Dot on March 10.

This rejection -- with its nod toward nonexistent policies NASA's FOIA team apparently believes exists -- followed a few rounds of discussion between the website and NASA, in which the agency criticized the scope of the original request. It claimed digging up files related to Trump's "media blackout" would force agency personnel to engage in "mindreading" and was not willing to aid journalistic agencies in "fishing expeditions." It's worst argument was that the documents weren't of sufficient public interest to expedite handling.

This new antipathy towards FOIA requesters is due to administrative meddling. Any science-related agency seems to have obtained an overseer to ensure their messages align with the White House's talking points. This appears to have been extended to cover public records requests. Between the terse communications with the Daily Dot and blanket, baseless demand for requesters' home addresses -- but only if the request is routed through MuckRock -- the federal government appears poised to top [?] the transparency lows of the Obama era, albeit without the self-congratulatory proclamations of unprecedented openness.

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  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 3 Apr 2017 @ 12:15pm

    Excuses Excuses Excuses

    It's worst argument was that the documents weren't of sufficient public interest to expedite handling.

    How is this even allowed to be used? If a journalist is using this to write a story or whatever, I don't see how this argument could EVER hold up. If that was the case, agencies would never be compelled to release anything... not that isn't already par for the course...

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 3 Apr 2017 @ 1:38pm

    Expedite it?

    She is probably staring at it taped to the front of her monitor. As if several to hundreds of employee-hours would be used to fulfill this request.

    The denial, and the beyond-ridiculous "reasons", rather well answer the query though, now don't they?

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

  • icon
    Avatar28 (profile), 3 Apr 2017 @ 1:42pm

    stupid extra step

    So now someone will have to get it mailed to their home and then turn around and mail it back out to Muckrock. It will probably have it's intended effect of keeping things off of there because too many people will either forget or not be bothered to make the effort or just plain won't want to spend the extra money postage.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2017 @ 2:38pm

    1.) Create a new LLC for a public FOIA database
    2.) Submit FOIA requests using the contact information of that LLC
    3.) ???
    4.) Profit!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2017 @ 2:45pm

    and those people would then disappear off the face of the planet, never to be seen or heard of/from again, akin to countries like N.Korea! and you still think we are living in a democracy?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2017 @ 2:50pm


      We never were living in a Democracy.

      go and read up on what the founder had to say about that. Anyone calling America a Democracy is shortcut proof of a subtle but deep seated ignorance about American politics.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2017 @ 5:53pm

        Re: Re:

        There's a little thing called a [representative democracy]( You might find it familiar.

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

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 3 Apr 2017 @ 3:28pm

    Okay, so ignoring the law is illegal

    Adding requirements not found in the FOIA violates statutory rights -- and a conspiracy to do so is therefore a felony.

    By the logic the government is applying, people could ignore subpoenas or even search warrants for bullshit reasons with equal justification.

    The only difference between the two cases is the government has more force to bring to bear than individuals.

    If the rule of law has given way to might makes right, why are we not already shooting? Our nation's founders would be.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2017 @ 5:13pm

    None of this violates. Uch of anything. FoIA requests do require that the requester is identified and since these people dont work for muckrock its reasonable to ask that the requests go to someone rather than to the muckrock mailing address.

    Muckrock is to blame really.. abusing the process is the problem.

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

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