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New website tracks federal FOIA lawsuits

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  1. Freedom of Information
A new website that tracks federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuits from across the country debuted this week. The website…

A new website that tracks federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuits from across the country debuted this week. The website provides, among other features, a geographical view of FOIA lawsuits filed since October 2009 and the site's creators also hope to add an agency-by-agency breakdown.

FOIAproject.org was created and launched by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data gathering, research and distribution organization at Syracuse University. TRAC co-director David Burnham, an investigative writer and former New York Times reporter, said the project idea came from the organization's personal experience with FOIA lawsuits. Burnham said he and co-director Susan Long, also a professor at the university, ran into "very serious efforts by [some federal agencies] not to provide information that they are required to."

Calling the agencies' actions "very devious," Burnham said he and Long wanted to create the site as a means to "shame the government into abiding by the law." Burnham said that the goal of the website is to give the general public a place to look at data and use that data to judge agency performance.

Burnham added that the site is a "work in progress" and that TRAC hopes to add tools to allow visitors to see trends and geographic disparities. Burnham also said he hopes to enable future visitors to identify the worst agencies in terms of FOIA compliance.

In its current form, the site shows FOIA suits by state and has links for users to access the different filings in those cases. Burnham said there are plans to expand the reach of the site to the administrative level of FOIA disputes. The site updates daily with court filings and will pick up instances where a case has been appealed to a higher level court.

TRAC is also considering adding a feature for users to add their own experiences with "egregious" denials. Burnham said that because there are "really no penalties for agencies" who violate FOIA, this website is aimed at informing the public of these instances in the hope of creating an incentive for agency compliance.