FBI officials are making it harder for Americans to request public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Beginning March 1, the FBI will no longer accept FOIA requests via email, according to FBI notifications to requesters, forcing the public to use more archaic methods like snail mail and fax. The change copies other agencies, like the IRS and CIA.
“It’s hard to see this move by the FBI as anything other than an attempt to make it more difficult for the public to access information about the agency, as is our legal right under the Freedom of Information Act,” Elizabeth Hempowicz, policy counsel for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The FBI will continue accepting requests through its online portal, but that method only allows users to submit one request per day, a limitation found nowhere in the text of the FOIA. Hempowicz said the change is “curious” because the FBI launched its web-based FOIA system in 2015 in the name of openness.
“The agency points to it (the FOIA portal) as proof it cares about transparency and efficiency, but if the FBI were truly committed to improving public access to information, the last thing it would do is shut down email requests,” Hempowicz added.
The FBI said the move will streamline its FOIA process. The FBI had 2,614 backlogged FOIA requests at the end of fiscal year 2015, according to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) most recent annual report on agency FOIAs.
“The FBI’s eFOIA portal was designed and developed to be the FBI’s primary means for receiving FOIA and Privacy Act requests,” FBI spokeswoman Jillian Stickels told TheDCNF.
“The portal provides the FBI with an automated process for the receipt and opening of requests, replacing the current manual process and substantially reducing the time it takes to receive and open each electronic request received. Given the FBI’s high volume of requests, this will significantly increase efficiency.”
Former President Barack Obama promised to have the most transparent administration in history, but his White House intercepted and vetted agency FOIA requests and prompted a record number of FOIA lawsuits against a presidential administration. (RELATED: Agency Takes 5 Years To Respond To FOIA Request)
President Donald Trump has spoken little of government transparency and public access to records.
Congress passed, and then-President Lyndon Johnson signed, FOIA into law in 1966, making all government documents subject to public access except those covered by one or more of nine specific exemptions for considerations such as privacy, law enforcement and commercial secrets.
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