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Appeals court tells Defense Department to zip it

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         NINTH CIRCUIT         Freedom of Information    

Appeals court tells Defense Department to zip it

  • A federal appeals panel ruled that the Department of Defense should be able to produce a compressed file format to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.

June 10, 2003 — Providing a requester a compressed electronic file should be considered “business as usual” by the Department of Defense, a U.S. Appeals Court panel in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled June 3, reversing a district court’s decision.

Total Procurement Systems, Inc., a Novato, Calif.-based company, which sells government procurement information, filed a Freedom of Information request with the Defense Logistics Information Service, an office within DOD. In its request, TPS sought the information in “zipped” or compressed format. According to TPS President Richard Snyder, the company requested zipped information because the agency’s file transfer process required files to be compressed.

DOD responded that it could provide the files in another electronic format, but that the FOI Act does not require it to compress files.

Snyder said that the agency wanted him to purchase the information on a CD-ROM, when what he really needed was the raw data.

TPS fought the denial in district court. The company cited examples in which DOD previously provided the company with compressed files. The lower court, however, said that because those compressed files were not provided in response to FOI requests, the examples did not prove that providing zipped files was “business as usual” in the context of the agency’s process for responding to FOI requests.

The appeals court disagreed, citing statements within the FOI Act that encourage agencies to use technology to make information available.

“The statements reflect a Congressional choice to expand, rather than narrow, the agencies’ obligations under FOIA and to encourage government agencies to use advancing computer technology — such as zipping files– not only to conduct agency business and store data, but also ‘to enhance public access’ to records,” the court stated in its opinion.

(TPS, Inc v. United States Department of Defense, Defense Logistics Agency; Counsel: Daniel E. Kensinger, Riverside, Calif.) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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