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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.