2019’s FOIAs - Year in Review and Reflections

header_img This past year has definitely been the most active for me in regards to public records requests, so I thought I would spend a bit of time on New Year’s Eve to go over some of the details of my year with FOIA. A time for reflections, things that went well and things I wish I’d done a bit differently. I hope some of these might help others working with public records requests in journalism, activism, and other realms.

Let’s start with some metric-based analysis and insights (I will only be covering details from MuckRock data through 2019, as 97% of my requests were made through their platform):


Most of my requests have pertained to law enforcemnt and other government technology I’m curious about - often looking to shed light on surveillance tools and programs. However I have also been interested in understanding some historical aspects of events and technical platforms this year. For example, I am interested in federal agency’s perceptions and experience with open source operating systems. Some responsive records for a request I made with the FBI into documents on OpenBSD revealed a peek into the investigation of a hack committed against the OS’s concurrent version system and a vulnerability discovered in OpenSSH in the early 2000’s.

In a less technical but more historically important request, I have been in litigation with the FBI for records pertaining to former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who was accussed by dozens of arrested citizens of torture leading to forced confessions. To this day, I am still slowly receiving the over-5,000 pages of records due from the request after paying the processing fee assigned.

I’m looking to do more requests like this in the future, as I find them important and substantive.

Things I’ve learned

Other thoughts and resources

FOIA is not my day-job and all the work involved with my requests is done in my spare time. If you would like to help support my future FOIA efforts, the best way to do so would be to donate the the NFP I volunteer for and do most of my FOIA requests through. We have a some projects prepared for the new year. You can do so here.

If you want to get in touch with me and chat about FOIA you can always do so on twitter or keybase.

Thanks for reading, and happy filing in 2020.