Subscribe to Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information

Board objects to EPA excluding reporters

EPA logo

The National Association of Science Writers today sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt expressing concern that his agency prevented specific media outlets from attending a national drinking water summit.

NASW's Information Access Committee drafted the letter, which the board approved.

Board objects to EPA press office action

EPA logo

The National Association of Science Writers sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week to comment on an unusual and restrictive press office episode that affected science reporters at several environmental news organizations.

A user's guide to hospital data

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website

The Affordable Care Act and other recent initiatives have opened large amounts of hospital data to prying eyes, Ronald Campbell writes in a review of what's available: "Hospitals are always complaining that their ER’s are financial black holes. So why not dig into the numbers and find out what’s really going on? The data is just sitting there for free. And it’s available in formats you can download into Excel or any database manager (CSV, CSV for Excel, tab-separated)."

FOIA under a Trump administration

Padlock on computer and book

Freelance writer and Freedom of Information Act fan Philip Eil has a suggestion for reporters worried about a Trump administration — redouble their efforts to use FOIA in their reporting: "The FOIA, notably, places no limit on the number of requests an agency can receive or a person can submit. And it is with this fact in mind — and Trump’s well-documented fondness for superlatives — that I suggest we make Donald Trump the most FOIA-requested president in U.S. history."

A reporter shares some FOIA lessons

Chain and padlock on book and laptop

Philip Eil recaps his fight for documents from a federal drug trial, and concludes that a successful Freedom of Information Act request often means a court fight: "So, if you’re filing a FOIA, and you actually care about getting results, start thinking about the eventual lawsuit. Talk to your local ACLU. Read the RCFP’s how-to guide to FOIA litigation. Ask your editor if you have a legal budget." Also, how FOIA should change in the digital age.

Recent news on freedom of information

Alphabetical file drawer

Pia Christensen reviews several recent news stories involving journalists' access — or lack of access — to nominally public information about issues relating to public health, and how media organizations and courts are responding: "Whether it involves public health data from Florida, evidence in a federal criminal case or embargoes and favored access at a federal agency, it’s clear that journalists are facing obstacles in ensuring the public’s access to information."

NASW signs Obama transparency letter

NASW logo small

NASW has joined 40 journalism and open government organizations in sending an open letter to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest in response to his recent New York Times letter to the editor touting the Obama administration's transparency.

On emails and public records laws

Email concept graphic

Government emails are treated much like paper documents under public records laws, but journalist Matthew Yglesias thinks that's a bad thing: "Treating email as public by default rather than private like phone calls does not serve the public interest. Rather than public servants communicating with the best tool available for communication purposes, they’re communicating with an arbitrary legal distinction in mind." Rebuttal from Michael Morisy.

A FOIA victory that maybe wasn't really

Locked book and computer

Illinois has hiked penalties for public agencies that drag their heels on responding to public records requests, but Jackie Spinner writes that the state's journalists aren't thrilled: "I heard mostly skepticism that the new law, which goes into effect next January, will do much. The responses highlighted a general frustration with how easily public bodies in Illinois can — and do — ignore requests for public documents, not just from journalists but also from citizens."

What's in the new FOIA reform law

Flag with

Shan Wang summarizes the FOIA Improvement Act, which President Obama — whose transparency record is not that great — signed last week: "The changes might be a step towards openness, though journalists aren’t letting the administration’s past record slide, rolling their eyes at the language of the White House’s fact sheet, which declared that the 'over the past seven and a half years, the Administration has made good on' its promise of a more transparent government."