In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sent CREW an additional form to fill out before they would send the requested documents–one that asked if the person making the request was a citizen. The FOIA is intended to promote transparency in government agencies, yet the TSA process requires jumping through hoops that discourage making a request, and puts personal information at risk.
CREW sent a FOIA request to the TSA about lobbyist contacts with a former official, and was told that the request was incomplete until an “Affirmation/Declaration form” was sent as well (Exhibit B). The form asked for date and place of birth and citizenship status of the person sending the request, under penalty of perjury.
CREW Chief FOIA Counsel Anne Weismann sent a letter to TSA saying that she would not be submitting the additional form, because “there simply is no reason why TSA needs information about my date and place of birth or my citizenship status to process CREW’s FOIA request.” Weismann also highlighted the unprecedented nature of the request, saying “in my many years of submitting FOIA requests on behalf of CREW I have never before been requested to submit this kind of information” and raised concerns that people who have not had so much experience filing FOIA requests may not recognize the illegitimacy of the request for that information by the TSA.
TSA said that they are using a new system for FOIA returns and they are working through glitches. Whether or not this was an error, it raises concerns that an agency like TSA could be collecting personal data about FOIA requesters, and raises concerns about the security of that data (especially given the technical difficulties). TSA must ensure the mistake is not repeated so that people are not discouraged from filing FOIA requests, and people’s personal information remains secure.
The additional requirements that TSA imposed exceed what is necessary for a normal FOIA request and conflict with what the law requires, at the expense of transparency and accountability.