Don't call us, we'll call you: Tales of a DHS FOIA

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Let’s have a talk about government transparency.

It all began earlier this year when I was having trouble reaching various spokespersons and public affairs staff at the Department of Homeland Security. I was repeatedly referred to mediainquiry@dhs.gov for any and all information but had no idea who was in charge of what. When I asked point blank who I should talk to about specific subjects, I was told to just use the email.

So I decided file a Freedom of Information Act request for the following information:

1. The names of all public affairs people and spokespersons at DHS.

2. Their work numbers and work email.

Eventually I got my response.

It was 58 pages of redacted work phone numbers, work email addresses and cell phone numbers.

Their reason? Well according to Sabrina Burroughs Acting Associate Director, Disclosure and FOIA Operations:

As a result of discussion between agency personnel and a member of my staff, as a matter of administrative discretion, I am releasing the DHS Public Affairs Directorate. I have determined that 58 pages of the records are partially releasable pursuant to Title 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(6), FOIA Exemption 6.

That is the FOIA exemption typically used to withhold medical records, personnel files and other items that are personal and not in the public interest to release. See below.

FOIA Exemption 6 exempts from disclosure personnel or medical files and similar files the release of which would cause a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. This requires a balancing of the public’s right to disclosure against the individual’s right privacy. The privacy interests of the individuals in the records you have requested outweigh any minimal public interest in disclosure of the information. Any private interest you may have in that information does not factor into the aforementioned balancing test.

Now remember, these are public affairs people and spokespersons, all of whom are supposed to engage with the public.

Is that a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy? I will leave that for all of you to decide.

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13 Comments

  1. Silly little citizen.

    The Department of Homeland Security is above the law. Every law. If they can fondle the genitalia of a prepubescent girl with absolute impunity, what makes you think they have to obey the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act?

  2. Can’t speak for DHS, but the DoD has put restrictions on releasing the names and work contact information for employees below the 0-6/GS-15 level pursuant to a FOIA request. The rationale is that DoD personnel are legitimate targets for terrorists and anti-military groups, so releasing that information to the general public unreasonably endangers the safety and security of DoD personnel.

    I didn’t write the policy –

  3. O.K., Being that clearly you have elected yourself as the representive of the common man, ME, then you are my representitive in this federal fight. Right? By all means.
    Go get’em Tiger.
    Oh, by the way. I’m going to need all your personal information so I can sue you if you miss-represent me.
    Ya You Andrew Medici, Your cell, Your address, Your…….

  4. Will,

    I am pretty sure he was asking for the work contact information for public affairs people. I know things have changed a lot since I worked in public affairs (at a smaller agency) but I think asking for their WORK contact information, as he says in the article, is not too much to ask for.

    I also elect your post for creepiest comment I have read in a while on this website.

    Go get ‘em tiger? Seriously?

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  6. Why don’t they just report on the fact that the public relations people at DHS do not do the job they were hired to do, and therefore should all be fired?

  7. This is one of the best articles i have come across…

    People look to government institutions to work on their behalf and provide oversight on matters that significantly impact their quality of life. Government must fulfill this role most effectively when its activities are open and transparent to citizens.

  8. Uninformed Citizens on

    It is sad to see such uninformed citizens with regards to the FOIA and Privacy Acts. Just because a person works for public affairs doesn’t mean they work directly with the citizens of this country. Also there is a main contact numbers for the public affairs

  9. Pingback: My Special Day – Happy 46th Birthday, Freedom of Information! | MA BERND PULCH, MAGISTER ARTIUM

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