Putting TRAC to Work
  News Organizations
Nieman Reports, Newman Foundation at Harvard
January 2016

Fifty Years of FOIA: As the Freedom of Information Act turns 50, journalists are innovating new ways to use the law
By Ben Wiseman

TRAC co-founder and co-director David Burnham, a former New York Times reporter, views the clearinghouse and its mission in classic watchdog terms. “The point of FOIA is not to bring lawsuits. FOIA is to improve governance. It’s to get hard information. The real purpose is to get concrete documentation so you can get good governance,” Burnham says.
Susan Long, co-founder and co-director of TRAC, views government intransigency as more than just psychological, however. In 2013, TRAC requested reams of info from the Department of Homeland Security’s customs, immigration, and border units. Even though the department on previous occasions had classified TRAC as an educational or media organization that need only pay duplicating costs, not search and processing fees, for this request the department opted to consider TRAC a commercial entity. In defending the fees, the department argued that TRAC was seeking too much information, though officials didn’t cite an exemption and reject their request. TRAC sued and a judge sided with the group in June. The department has since refused to process the request, calling it “burdensome.”

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
Copyright 2016
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