February 17, 2005

(Updated) Senators Introduce Bill Guaranteeing FOIA Privileges To Bloggers

Part Of Legislation Advancing Openness In Government

Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post.

We don't normally spend too much time here on the meta conversation in which people blog about blogging, but this item has direct relevance to the intersection of blogging and journalism, and therefore direct relevance to what it is we try to do here.

An item from The Blog Herald brought our attention to a piece of legislation introduced this week by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) which seeks "to achieve meaningful reforms to federal government information laws, most notably the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA)."

For a wider explanation of what the bill entails, see Leahy's statement and/or Cornyn's floor speech. For our purposes, this is the key bit (taken here from Leahy's statement):

The Cornyn-Leahy legislation is not just pro-openness, pro-accountability, and pro-accessibility - it's also pro-Internet.  It includes a hotline enabling citizens to track their requests, including Internet tracking, and grants privileged FOIA fees for bloggers and writers for Internet outlets, providing the same status as traditional media.
...
Protect access to FOIA fee waivers for legitimate journalists, regardless of institutional association – including bloggers and other Internet-based journalists ...

Those readers who recall that we recently submitted a FOIA request to the FBI regarding the local Joint Terrorism Task Force might recall that in fact we applied for those very fee and fee waiver privileges, although we won't know their response until the beginning of next month.

Nonetheless, regardless of their response on the matter of those fee and waiver privileges, reforming the nation's FOIA laws to explicitly include bloggers is a wise idea, and it's at least vaguely remarkable that it's being proposed so directly. Because this is an important journalistic issue (and by that we mean both the specific inclusion of bloggers and the broader overall aims of the bill), we will try to keep up to date on this issue.

Especially because when it becomes clear just who in Congress needs to hear from supporters of FOIA and openness in government, we fully intend to urge you to make your voices heard on the matter.

If you want to express your appreciation to these two Senators, see Cornyn's contact page and Leahy's contact page.

February 18, 2005

Update

Over at the Media Law weblog, they notice something we didn't, thansk to the fact that they actually noticed the bill text itself (pdf). What they point out is this:

In making a determination of a representative of the news media ..., an agency may not deny that status solely on the basis of the absence of institutional associations of the requester, but shall consider the prior publication history of the requester. Prior publication history shall include books, magazine and newspaper articles, newsletters, television and radio broadcasts, and Internet publications. If the requestor has no prior publication history or current affiliation, the agency shall consider the requester's stated intent at the time the request is made to distribute information to a reasonably broad audience.

That appears to be the element (or perhaps one of them, we haven't yet read the bill) which expands the FOIA privileges regarding fee and fee waiver policies for media to bloggers.

In addition to the above-linked bill text, Senator Cornyn's website also provides a section-by-section analysis (pdf) and a general description (pdf).

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Comments (14)

  1. Jack Peek on 17 Feb 2005

    Its a great idea..it will work both ways.

  2. Kari Chisholm on 18 Feb 2005

    Wow. So, that's basically a complete waiver of all FOIA fees for everyone. After all, since it takes about three minutes to set up a blog (for free, over on Blogger.com) all anyone has to do is set up a blog, write a post or two, and ask for the FOIA fee waiver.

    Fascinating.

    Incidentally, the introduction of that bill was the first mention of "blog" on the Senate floor.

  3. The One True b!X on 18 Feb 2005

    Its a great idea..it will work both ways.

    And that's precisely the strategy supproters of this bill need to take: Convince members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that whatever our fights over specific issues, we have to agree on these overarching matters in order to have the right playing field for us to have all of our fights.

  4. The One True b!X on 18 Feb 2005

    So, that's basically a complete waiver of all FOIA fees for everyone. After all, since it takes about three minutes to set up a blog (for free, over on Blogger.com) all anyone has to do is set up a blog, write a post or two, and ask for the FOIA fee waiver.

    Well, should this pass (or probably even in any debate over the bill, should it get that far), that will be a point of contention I'm sure, as various agencies question whether or not this blogger or that blogger is "legitimate".

  5. Jeff on 18 Feb 2005

    Incidentally, the introduction of that bill was the first mention of "blog" on the Senate floor.

    Now how in the world did you learn that?

  6. Brendan Watson on 18 Feb 2005

    You're doing a huge misservice to your readers and to the blogsphere as a whole, which is spreading you're bad information.

    Did you even read the bill? There is NOTHING in that bill...I mean NOTHING to "explicitly include blogers.." Nothing what so ever. Yes, it expands the language to include internet publications, but there is other language that narrows what is considered an internet publication, EXPLICITLY for the purpose of limiting the scope of the law. Yes, under it some bloggers could make a good argument that it covers them. But they could before, too. Anyone who claims this bill is a radical departure from past laws, which did not recognize bloggers as journalists, clearly hasn't read the law and has no understanding of FOIA and its history. Please, read the law before you spread this misinformation! Have you even used FOIA (and would bloggers use it in any meaningful way even if it was completely free in most cases, which it already is!)? This bill is technical and may be important to journalists, but will have little if any impact on blogs.

  7. The One True b!X on 18 Feb 2005

    It's true that the bill itself doesn't read blogs -- my earlier remark was based upon the statements on the bill from Cornyn and Leahy, the latter of which, at least, specifically referenced blogs.

    The snippet of bill text included in the update here quite obviously includes blogs -- that's what the "an agency may not deny that status solely on the basis of the absence of institutional associations of the requester" bit covers.

    But as for misinformation, one bit from your comment itself is misinformation -- "there is other language that narrows what is considered an internet publication".

    Yes, I have read the bill. There is no such language in it.

  8. The One True b!X on 18 Feb 2005

    As for whether or not I've used FOIA, you also demonstrate that you didn't even read the post upon which you were commenting, because the answer to that question is contained therein. That doesn't say much for your credibility in yelling at any of us regarding the reading and understanding of the bill text.

    Of course, in theory, bloggers can use FOIA as it currently stands. The point is that because there's no language specifically including people who publish online but don't have an institutional affiliation, agencies currently have all the leeway they might want in declining the reduced fees and fee waivers that are offered to representatives of the media -- and that's the point at issue: Fees.

  9. Jack Peek on 19 Feb 2005

    Like you didn't read SB1040 in the 99th session of the Oregon house and senate.

    Wrong info is not a good day on the net!

  10. The One True b!X on 19 Feb 2005

    Jack, do you read everything? Do you have to sit through moronic yelling from people who are pissy that you didn't happen to read Thing A of Thing B about their favorite pet topic, berating you for not following every single tiny aspect of whatever their pet issue is?

    No? Then stop frickin going off on me. I get that you have your favorite issues. But I don't share your interest. That doesn't mean they aren't important, it means they don't compell me. But it also means I'm really not deserving of your warped almost sociopathic need to berate me for no reason.

  11. Jack Peek on 19 Feb 2005

    Good citizens are the riches of a city. - C.E.S. Wood


    You care about this city, (OR YOU CLAIM YOU DO)

    Then just because I won't sit back and watch it ruined/destroyed/ by things that are in front of you everyday, its interesting how somebody like you who I actually admire can just ignore a problem that can get people killed or hurt.

    That IS the lefts deal, as long as it doesn't hurt or kill me.."who the "f---" cares.

    You have a gift of writing that makes it possible to change ideas and people, get off your rear and do something with it that trully impact's all of us that live here...JUST NOT A SELECT FEW!

  12. doretta on 20 Feb 2005


    Jack, what are you doing about drunk drivers? People who don't wear their seatbelts? Loaded guns left where kids can get to them? Unsafe stretches of highway? Buildings that will collapse in a strong earthquake? Dangerous dogs? Air pollution?

    The list of things that have hurt/killed and continue to hurt/kill people around here is fairly long. The list of things that haven't killed anyone lately but do have real potential to kill people includes quite a bit more than your two personal favorites.

    You constantly make posts so filled with hysteria there is no room for facts or genuine discussion of the issues. You constantly misrepresent other people's opinions and "counter" arguments no one in the discussion is making. You make it clear day in and day out that you are literally scared out of your wits.

    If your aim is to convince other people that your two favorites should be at the top of their lists too, your behavior could hardly be more counterproductive.

  13. The One True b!X on 20 Feb 2005

    If your aim is to convince other people that your two favorites should be at the top of their lists too, your behavior could hardly be more counterproductive.

    FYI, that behavior, and its alienating effect, is precisely why he was shunned out of the right-wing recall campaign agaisnt Vera Katz.

    In the end, Jack, maybe seemingly no one in town wants to go near your issues because they don't want to be associated with the hyperventilating hysteria you wrap them in.

  14. Brendan Watson on 21 Feb 2005

    Now this is an interesting and more significant development (though no the national level we'd all hope for). From the FOI listserv:

    A bill introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates (HB1140) would extend the state's strong shield law to bloggers. It's scheduled for a hearing on March 4 in the House Judiciary Committee.
    http://mlis.state.md.us/2005rs/bills/hb/hb1140f.pdf

    Jim Keat
    Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association