Most requests to federal agencies under the American Freedom of Information Act are for personal information, a new study shows.
According to a report (PDF) by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, there were more than 4 million FOI requests to federal agencies in 2004, but most of these were from people seeking information about themselves from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration.
These are fairly uncontrovertial requests of a sort that would in Britain be called “Subject Access requests” under the Data Protection Act.
The CJOG report notes that those requesters are likely to get the information they seek and get it in a timely fashion. But requesters seeking non-personal information from other agencies got all or some of the information they sought only two-thirds of the time.
CJOG’s tallies from of the Justice Department’s litigation reports suggest that fewer than 2 percent of the requesters denied information were likely to litigate the denials, and that when requesters did litigate they won outright in fewer than 3 percent of the cases. The government won 70 percent of the time. In the remaining 27 percent of cases, plaintiffs got some records through court order or stipulated agreement.
News media are numerically minor players. Only 18 of 2,460 FOI legal cases reported involve media companies.