Freedom (?) of Information

June 21, 2018

Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek published an interesting piece on US immigration policy[1]. In it were the details of a dispute between ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a “small research group at Syracuse University”.

That dispute involves ICE records dealing with deportations and detainers. After providing this data to TRAC under the FOIA (US Freedom Of Information Act), ICE stopped last year.

Its reason? The “records TRAC has asked for don’t exist in the form requested and [ICE] says producing responses would require searching its database, a process [ICE] claims amounts to creating new records”. And ICE says that under FOIA, it is not required to create new records. So more data for TRAC.

In response, a  lawyer for TRAC asserts “That just can’t be right, because that’s basically true of all [US] government records right now.” Depending on how the litigation comes out, the FOIA may become increasingly useless to researchers, including those of us in CI.

Maybe this is just one agency out of sync, a one-off situation? No, rather it is just the gradual continuation of a long-term trend that access to government records under Federal and State law is being narrowed for any number of reasons, some good, some not so good. For example, in 2007, Carolyn Vella and I wrote “As the war on terrorism continues, we can expect that access to more and more data currently held by the government will be impacted. Most likely, it will be subject to the typical back and forth of politics.” [2]

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Or,”The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing.“

[1] “ICE’s Disappearing Data”, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 18, 2018, pp. 42-44.

[2] “Competitive Intelligence, Corporate Security and the War on Terrorism” CIO.com – Business Technology Leadership (October 30, 2007).



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