Fun Fun FOIA | MIT Center for Civic Media

Fun Fun FOIA

A FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, request is supposed to be a way for the average citizen to reveal information and documents controlled by the federal government. Anyone can file a FOIA request for pretty much damn near everything, and in Intro to Civic Media we started that process a few weeks ago.

Even though most federal agencies are required to respond to FOIA requests, those responses can range from helpful to not helpful to many many different flavors or denials. Over the summer at the EFF I helped organize the trove of documents they received from the FAA regarding the use of drones by civilian police departments (you can check out the materials they received here. The EFF did receive a lot of documents from the FAA, but the files as received weren't organized, didn't have a standardized naming systems, had no context, and required a many man-hours (intern-hours) to sort through and organize. And this, frankly, was a good response. Sometimes FOIA requests yield documents so heavily redacted as to be useless, or aren't filled for years (check out this report from The National Security Archive at George Washington University on the oldest pending FOIA requests.

In class, our group decided to file a FOIA request to the Boston Police Department, regarding some events that occurred last year during Occupy Boston when the police removed a grey water sink from the camp in Dewey Square. You can check out coverage of the raid at Wired and The Daily Kos. Some police departments, like the NYPD, have a notoriously poor reputation when it comes to responding to FOIA requests. We're hoping the Boston PD will be more awesome.

Are you interested in filing your own FOIA request? You can start the process here or here. Let us know if you do, and what you find out, in the comments!