The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will reportedly lift restrictions on its online system designed for sending public records requests. It was recently revealed that the FBI, starting 1 March, will no longer accept public records requests under FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) via email, instead relying on fax machines and standard mail.
The FBI's FOIA portal previously imposed several restrictions, such as allowing individuals to make just one request per day and one request per submission and limiting the length of the requests to 3,000 characters. However, the FBI now reportedly says that it will no longer impose these restrictions when its online system, the eFOIPA portal launches on 1 March.
"The FBI eFOIA portal has been under development and testing for two years. With the full implementation of the portal on March 1, 2017, the terms of service for the site will be modified to allow an unlimited number of requests, no limitation on the number of requests which may be submitted by an individual, and availability seven days a week, 24 hours a day," the FBI said in a statement, the Daily Dot reported.
The FBI also said that it would limit the amount of personal information it would collect from those making FOIA request submissions. Lawyers who specialise in FOIA cases had expressed concerns over the amount of personal information the agency previously required individuals making FOIA requests to hand over. The agency earlier intended to collect people's phone numbers, physical addresses and data determining whether requests were being made from overseas or within the US.
However, the FBI will now make it optional for individuals to provide phone numbers.
Senator Ron Wyden, an outspoken privacy rights and government transparency advocate, expressed concerns over the FBI's latest relaxed restrictions, indicating that they are not enough.
"Sen Wyden has a number of concerns about the FBI's new FOIA policy, even with the revisions announced today," Keith Chu, Wyden's spokesman, told the Daily Dot. "He plans to ask the FBI how it justifies limiting access to information the public has a right to access."
"I'm glad to hear they are lifting some of the restrictions that were put in place by the online portal," said Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "But I think there are still significant questions and issues that need to be answered and resolved."
"I think [email] is the most ubiquitous form of communication," Marshall added, mirroring Wyden's concerns that the FBI's relaxed restrictions fell short of appropriately addressing the agency's approach to public records requests. "And the government should be doing everything it can to make it easier for people to request information — not harder."