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Government drops FOI denial, charges $372,799 instead

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Feb. 4, 2005    

Government drops FOI denial, charges $372,799 instead

  • The U.S. Justice Department, changing its denial of a Freedom of Information Act request made on the basis of “privacy,” instead is charging six figures for a search for the requested records about secret proceedings in detainee cases in federal courts.

Feb. 4, 2005 — A public interest group will have to pay the Department of Justice $372,799 in search fees if it wants records concerning the department’s efforts to seal federal court proceedings against immigrant detainees, department officials said. The department had previously denied a request for the records, made under the Freedom of Information Act by People for the American Way.

Elliot Mincberg, the group’s vice president and legal director, filed an FOI Act request for records in 2003 seeking documents about the government’s efforts to seal federal court proceedings involving the detention of immigrant detainees after Sept. 1, 2001.

The department denied the request in December 2003, saying that releasing the records would intrude upon the detainees’ privacy even though the group had not asked for names of the detainees and had made clear its willingness to accept redacted records.

People for the American Way sued in August, prompting the Justice Department to poll 93 U.S. Attorneys Offices around the country. In January, department officials notified the group that it now would search for records for release if it received prepayment of the estimated search fees. It told the group it also would have to pay 10-cents-per-page copy costs for any records ultimately released, and it warned that the workload of many of the offices and limited staff would preclude beginning the search for at least a year.

Mincberg said he hopes that some of these issues will be resolved in a conference on the case next week before U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington. Mincberg said “surely someone knows” what the government has done to seal these cases.

FOI Act requesters who are not representatives of the news media or who are not educational or scientific institutions must pay search fees beyond the first two hours of a records search. However, the act provides for a public interest fee waiver when disclosure would make a significant contribution to public understanding of government activities. News media requesters are not charged search fees. They pay only copy costs beyond the first 100 pages provided them.

(People for the American Way v. Department of Defense; Counsel: Rob Weiner, Arnold and Porter, Washington, D.C.)RD


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