Big FOIA Issue: Should Release To One Mean Release To All?

August 3, 2016

The federal Chief FOIA Officers Council met for the first time July 22, 2016, and promptly raised an issue that may rankle some journalists.

The council consists of some 103 top officials responsible for implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It got its mandate from the amendments to FOIA passed this year by Congress and signed into law June 30. In a signing statement, President Obama urged the FOIA officers to consider scaling up a six-month pilot program that began in 2015. Under it, government information that is released to a single FOIA requester would automatically be released to all — by proactively posting the responsive information online.

Journalists are sometimes competitive — and even secretive about the exclusive "scoops" they may be working on, lest their competitors beat them to publication. This leads to a paradox when journalists want government information, but do not want competitors to get it too quickly. The release-to-one-release-to-all could make some journalists uncomfortable. Other journalists may feel that government should be as open as possible. Some have suggested that a time lag before general release would help.

Obama charged the council with addressing such concerns and charting a course by January 1, 2017, for implementing the policy government-wide.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is conducting a survey to get journalists' opinions on the release-to-one-release-to-all policy. You can respond to it here.

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