Hello, and welcome to the third edition of the Data Liberation Project’s newsletter. Inside: Our first FOIA win, opportunities for collaboration, the DLP’s latest batch of FOIA requests, a new way to express interest in specific requests, and other news from the data-FOIA-sphere.
Through its Risk Management Program (RMP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a database of risk management plans and accident histories submitted by “facilities that use extremely hazardous substances.” In late October, the Data Liberation Project sent a FOIA request seeking that database (with the exception of the “Off-Site Consequence Analysis” records deemed non-disclosable by 40 CFR Part 1400).
The good news first: According to the EPA, a compact disc containing the database should be in the mail. Once it arrives, I’ll begin preparing it for publication.
Now some nitpicks:
The records on the CD only go through March 2022, for reasons that seem specific to the EPA’s procedure for fulfilling RMP FOIA requests. I plan to re-request the database once more recent records are available.
The EPA refused to provide the records via digital file transfer, insisting that mailing the records on a CD is “our current policy and procedure” for RMP FOIAs.
I believe that the EPA is likely violating
5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(D)’s so-called “reading-room provision,” which (among other things) requires that agencies “make available for public inspection in an electronic format [...] copies of all records [...] that have been requested 3 or more times[.]” Based on the EPA's communications with me, it seems likely that these specific records have already been requested at least three times, after which the EPA should have posted them online. I asked the agency about this; their point-person for this request provided no substantive response.
Please reply to this email if you’d like to help make the EPA records above more useful to the public. In particular, I’m looking for people who’d like to collaborate on:
Last week, I filed the third batch of Data Liberation Project FOIA requests. They seek:
Questionnaire responses collected through the government’s flagship study of adults with Long COVID, part the billion-dollar RECOVER Initiative — a request co-drafted and co-submitted with Betsy Ladyzhets of MuckRock’s Documenting COVID-19 project. (If you’d like to collaborate on a request, reply to this email or fill out this form.)
You can read more about each request via the links above. If you have any questions about them, please do ask.
A new addition to the DLP website: At the bottom of each request page (such as those above), there’s an “express your interest” link. It will take you to a short form where you can provide your name, describe your interest, and (optionally) register to receive request-specific updates via email.
The Appeal and reporter Ethan Corey filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice last week over the agency’s refusal to provide data collected through the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA). Since 2019, Corey has filed several DCRA-related FOIA requests that sought, among other records, all facility-level death-in-custody counts collected through DCRA’s provisions. He has also reported on DOJ’s failures in implementing DCRA.
The National Immigration Litigation Alliance and Church World Service are suing the State Department over an unfulfilled FOIA request that seeks “records relating to the adjudication of Form I-730 Refugee/Asylee Relative Petitions — petitions submitted by refugees and asylees to obtain permission for their immediate relatives to join them in the United States — as well as Defendant’s policies and practices that impact those adjudications.”
Political scientist Justin H. Phillips has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Census Bureau, seeking the “noisy measurements files” generated by the differential privacy algorithm the agency used for the 2020 Census. [h/t MuckRock]
That’s all for now! Thank you for reading, and don’t hesitate to reply.