Submit Your FOIA Horror Stories for The Foilies 2020

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Calling all transparency advocates, investigative journalists, and assorted FOIA punks!

It’s once again time to submit your nominations for The Foilies—EFF’s annual, tongue-in-cheek awards for outrageous, ridiculous, and infuriating responses to public records requests. 

Each year during Sunshine Week (March 15-21, 2020), EFF publishes The Foilies to shine light on all the manifold ways that authorities thwart the public’s right to examine government records. These might include exorbitant fees, excessive redactions, or even the arrest of reporters for simply asking for documents. We also often highlight some of the sillier mistakes, like that time the CIA misspelled its own name on its FOIA response envelopes. 

Some of last year’s winners included: 

In addition to running on EFF’s Deeplinks blog, The Foilies are also published by free weeklies around the country through a partnership with the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. 

The deadline for nominations is 11:59 p.m. on January 1, 2020. Send them to foilies@eff.org

Who Can Win?

The Foilies are not awarded to people who filed FOIA requests. These are not a recognition anyone should actually covet. There’s no physical trophy or other tangible award, just a virtual distinction of demerit issued to government agencies and public officials (plus the odd rock star) who snubbed their nose at transparency. If you filed a FOIA request with the Ministry of Silly Walks for a list of grant recipients, and a civil servant in a bowler hat told you to take a ludicrous hike, then the ministry itself would be eligible for the Foilies.

Do Nominations Have to Be Related to the Freedom of Information Act?

Nope. Lots of our entries involve state and municipal-level transparency laws, and occasionally some open meetings laws. 

Do the Nominations Have to Be U.S.-based? 

Not at all. We’ve had recipients in the U.K. and Canada before.  If your country has an equivalent freedom of information law, then it’s eligible. In fact, we’d love to get more international stories into the mix. 

How Are The “Winners” Chosen? 

In addition to the nominations you send, EFF collects FOIA horror stories all year as they pass across our social media feeds or land in our inboxes. After the nomination deadline, we also spend a  significant amount of time scouring the Internet for stories we might’ve missed. 

Then, a small team at EFF evaluates the nominees and selects the best, while also trying to create a balance between national and local stories. For the most part, we do not determine the categories in advance. Rather, we look at the nominations we receive, winnow them down, then come up with fitting tributes, such as the “Most Expensive FOIA Fee Estimate” and “Sue the Messenger Award.” 

We also give weight to whether the FOIA nomination is keyed to a high profile controversy, whether it’s laugh-out-loud absurd, or if there are striking visuals accompanying the nomination. 

One thing that is consistent year to year is that are specifically looking for large fees assessments, long processing times, and surreal redactions. 

Who Can Nominate?

Anyone, regardless of whether you were involved in the issue or just happened to read about it on Twitter. Send as many nominations as you like!

Eligibility

All nominations must have had some event happen during calendar year 2018. For example, you can nominate something related to a FOIA request filed in 1994 if you finally received a rejection in 2018.

How to Submit a Nomination

Send nominations to foilies@eff.org with “FOILIES 2019 NOMINATION” in the subject line. You can nominate multiple entries in a single email, just make sure to enumerate the nominations so we can easily separate them. 

Two styles of entry that we will accept: 

A) Short Nomination: Send a relevant link and a couple of sentences. This is great when you have a news article or blog posts that explains everything already. This is also useful for nominating somebody’s else’s horror story.

B) Detailed nomination: Send a longer email with including the information below. This is great when the horror story hasn’t been written about before, you need to add more context, or if you’re just really enthusiastic/peeved off. 

Category: One-line suggested award title. We reserve the right to ignore or alter your suggestion. 

Description: Succinct explanation of the public records issue and why it deserves recognition.

Links/References: Include any links to stories, records, photos, or other information that will help us better understand the issue.

Contact details: Include a way for us to reach you with further questions. This information will remain confidential.

If we short-list your nomination, we may be in touch to request more details.

How Strict Are You On This? 

To be honestand please don’t abuse thiswe’re flexible. We don’t automatically reject nominations that are a day or two late. We will consider your nomination, regardless of whether you answer all the prompts. We do prefer you use the foilies@eff.org email, but if you tweet your nomination at @EFF, we’ll likely still add it to the mix.

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Author: Dave Maass

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