Homeland Security Ignores Own Guidelines To Make It Prohibitively Expensive For Media Companies To Obtain FOIA Docs
from the say-what-now? dept
Now, some background is important here. The whole point of waiving fees for "commercial" requesters is to avoid companies doing things like building up private databases by use of FOIA requests and then selling them. It's not for the purpose of blocking commercial media properties from doing journalism with the documents. In fact, Homeland Security's own FOIA guidelines make it clear that for-profit media operations using FOIA for reporting purposes are not commercial requesters:
A request for records supporting the news-dissemination function of the requester shall not be considered to be for a commercial use.Seems simple enough, but apparently the DHS wants to ignore its own guidelines when it comes to Muckrock. Here's what DHS told Muckrock:
Regarding the "commercial requester" classification, the Agency has also properly determined that the requested records would be used for commercial purposes. Although you assert that any responsive documents would be made available to the public for free on MuckRock's website, the Agency must balance the commercial interest against the public interest. Making documents available on MuckRock's website, even at no charge, drives traffic to the website and furthers its commercial purposes. Your request does not provide any information that would allow the Agency to determine that the public interest outweighs this commercial interest.But, that kind of argument makes no sense, and would effectively mean that basically all news media organizations who post the relevant source documents from FOIA requests are no longer considered "news media" requesters, but rather "commercial requesters." Because, of course, part of the media function of posting any such document is to "drive traffic." As Muckrock points out in response to this news, there are over 300 media organizations who contribute such documents to DocumentCloud (and we're among them). Many of those organizations are for-profit and clearly media operations. The attempt to claim that Muckrock is a "commercial requester" is clearly ignoring both the clear intent of the commercial requester status and DHS's own guidelines in how to deal with media requests from for-profit media properties.
It's almost as if Homeland Security is looking for bogus excuses to make it prohibitively expensive for media sites, reporting in the public interest, to actually get the documents they request.