BGA Sues FBI Over Access To Public Records

The FBI is not immune from the federal Freedom of Information Act, the law that guarantees public access to government records.

Contact:
Matt Topic (773) 368-8812
Robert Herguth (312) 821-9030

CHICAGO—The FBI is not immune from the federal Freedom of Information Act, the law that guarantees public access to government records.

But the law enforcement agency is acting like it by refusing to properly respond to public records requests from the Better Government Association and, most likely, others.

So the BGA is taking the FBI to court, accusing the agency in a newly filed lawsuit of violating FOIA.

The foundation of the suit is a FOIA request made by the BGA earlier this year, seeking records on the "Fun and Games" section of the FBI’s web site.

Specifically the BGA sought information on "what it has cost the taxpayers, and what benefits it has produced."

The FBI responded that it searched its "Central Records System" and couldn’t find anything.

And then the FBI asked the BGA to provide "additional information pertaining to the subject that you believe was of investigative interest to the Bureau."

The BGA’s lawsuit says the "FBI’s request for more information appears to demonstrate that no human being actually read or intelligently considered the subject matter of the request and that the search performed was part of an automated process divorced from the reality of the request.  Clearly the FBI website and its Fun & Games character ‘Bobby Bureau’ are not subjects of an FBI investigation, and clearly records responsive to the request would not be found" in the Central Records System.

The BGA reached back out to the FBI to ask that all files, not just its investigative file, be searched. The BGA didn’t hear back, and inquired again. The FBI still has not responded.

"Our belief is the FBI regularly handles FOIA requests this way – conducting, at best, a cursory search for records and then spitting out a nonsensical response," said the BGA’s CEO and President, Andy Shaw. "The agency should know better – and should be abiding by the law. It certainly demands that from the rest of us."

"FOIA is a crucial tool in holding public agencies accountable – for their spending and other decision-making, especially on discretionary items like a ‘Fun & Games’ section. If agencies ignore FOIA requests, how can the public and press do that?"

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Here’s a link to all of BGA’s legal actions.

The Better Government Association is a Chicago-based nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the public to achieve authentic and responsible reform.