TLP: Are You Looking at Me?
The Lazy Paperboy once worked in a newsroom where the guys back in the tech shop had a sign taped up over the workbench:
- Hourly rate: $25
- With you watching: $50
- With you helping: $75
Representative Darrell Issa calls it a way to promote transparency: a request for the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, business executives, journalists and others who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years.No one is more interested in the status of a FOIA request than the person who files it. And if a response to a request lags or seems to linger somewhere on purpose, it's the responsibility of the filer to push harder until there is an answer. There's a law for that.
Mr. Issa, a California Republican and the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says he wants to make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests and do not delay them out of political considerations.
But his extraordinary request worries some civil libertarians. It “just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking,” said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. “It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good.”
Mr. Issa sent a letter on Tuesday asking 180 federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Social Security Administration, for electronic files containing the names of people who requested the documents, the date of their requests and a description of information they sought. For those still pending after more than 45 days, he also asked for any communication between the requestor and the federal agency. The request covers the final three years of Bush administration and the first two years of President Obama’s.
“Our interest is not in the private citizens who make the requests,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Mr. Issa. “We are looking at government responses to these Freedom of Information requests and the only way to measure that is to tally all that information.”
Some will push with their own lawyers. Others will push with publicity. Maybe some will turn to their congressman. That would be the time for "help" from Capitol Hill.