Friday, January 10, 2014

US Navy FOIA Memo on Dodging Requests Mistakenly Sent to Reporter

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A US Navy FOIA memo found its way into the hands of a reporter, revealing a strategy for how department members could avoid and discourage Freedom of Information Act inquiries from the media, thereby limiting and potentially preventing the release of photos and information.

The internal memo was accidentally sent to NBC News reporter Scott MacFarlane in response to his request for information pertaining to the Navy Yard shooting in September 2013 that left 12 people dead.

 The memo was contained within an email sent by Robin Patterson, the Navy's FOIA public liaison, on Jan. 2. She referred to FOIA requests as "fishing expedition[s]" and outlined methods in which the release of such information could be deterred.

"Recommend that you provide the requester with an estimate, as I can see the search and review, possible redactions, will be very costly," Patterson wrote in the email. "This may encourage the requester to 'narrow the scope.' Again another 'fishing expedition' — just because they are media doesn't mean that the memos would shed light on specific government activities."

Realizing what he had received, MacFarlane took to Twitter to share the Navy's internal memo on Tuesday.

When asked about the memo by Politico, the Navy initially said it was an "administrative error," later telling the political news site that they could not comment on the veracity of the document.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the Navy reportedly apologized to MacFarlane and tweeted an apology.

MacFarlane's initial request that led to the memo release was his asking that the Navy waive any fees above $15 for his FOIA request, considering that the request was made in "the public interest."

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