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The suprising users of FOIA – businesses!

I’m surprised I missed a study issued in July 2006 by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government titled Frequent Filers: Businesses Make FOIA Their Business. This study of thousands of FOIA requests made some surprising findings:

The report by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government analyzed 6,439 FOIA requests to 11 Cabinet-level departments and six large agencies in September 2005, the
closing month of the last federal budget year. The review found that more than 60 percent of the requests came from commercial interests, including professional data brokers
working on behalf of clients who wanted such information as the asbestos level on old Navy ships, cockpit recordings from crashed airliners and background data on prospective employees.

The second-largest group of requesters —categorized as “other” and consisting mostly of private citizens—comprised a third of the total. These were individuals from a wide
swath of society: a movie producer doing research for The Road to Guantanamo, a divorcee searching for hidden assets and UFO enthusiasts seeking evidence of other worldly visitations.

There were also requests from a local police department mining for information on federal grants, a whistleblower trying to shore up a claim of government wrongdoing,
historians digging into original source material, a cryptologist trying to recover a Navy intelligence report he had worked on years earlier, and a lawyer in the Texas Attorney General’s office trying to locate parents overdue on child support payments.

“Media” requests accounted for 6 percent of the total. Many reporters say it takes too long to get information through FOIA to make it a meaningful tool for newsgathering. It
is used more frequently by journalists working on longer, investigative projects.

So, at least according to this study the picture of the Freedom of Information Act as a tool for journalists to embarassment the government while wasting its time is another urban legend. Granted, the study was done by reporters, but their methodology looked sound. Pull up the study and judge for yourself.

Freedom of information is just as good for Wall Street as for Main Street, or even better.

When you’re done checking out the study, try looking up their background papers. Lots of good stuff.

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