Many federal government agencies are allowed (and in some cases are required) by law to charge fees for access to data they collect.
The US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) maintains a database of U.S. visitors by their origin, age, residency, port of entry, visa type, and initial destination. ITA charges from thirteen to sixteen thousand dollars per year of data for access to this Visitor Arrivals Program [I-94] Data). ITA claims that the fees are justified because the revenue is essential to its operation and has resisted a Freedom of Information Act (FOAI) request for release of the data. The multi-year data the journalist requested would cost $174,000.
"… we rely upon sales to keep them running. If we gave the data away for free to one, we would have to do it for all. But, since ITA requires that we charge a fee and work to make the program funded by sales and appropriated funds, there would be no data to provide and it would also terminate several other programs we have that rely upon this data as well…."
A US District Court has ruled that there is no legal basis to charge such exorbitant fees to access government data and has directed the agency to reevaluate how much to charge for responding to the FOIA request.
The government could appeal the decision.
- We won our lawsuit against the US government over paywalled immigration data, David Yanofsky, Quartz (April 03, 2018).
- DAVID YANOFSKY, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, Defendant. Case 1:16-cv-00951-KBJ Document 28 Filed 03/30/18
Hat Tip to the Sunlight Foundation!
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