The Freedom of Information Act and It’s Loopholes|Briah Fowler

By Briah Fowler 

The Freedom of Information Act is an excellent tool a journalist can utilize for a news story, that is, if the FOIA request isn’t delayed, denied or dismissed. FOIA insists upon the government to make information available to the public upon request, but there is a list of exemptions. Numerous news networks such as News 12, Eyewitness News 7, and CNN all claim the most significant challenges with FOIA are obtaining a response to their requests.  

Let’s briefly reflect on the notorious case against the FBI. Gregory Wallace of CNN says the FBI received a FOIA request from CNN on May 16, 2017. The request asked for the immediate release of FBI Director James B. Comey and his documented interactions with President Donald J. Trump. Even though the FOIA was created to make the government more transparent, it is not obligated to release all information under the law. However, according to Courthouse News, “the FBI wrongfully withheld agency records in violation of the FOIA in this case.” Wallace also mentions how denied FOIA requests are a massive blow to the public’s right to know. And with over 19 million people tuning in to watch the live broadcast of Comey’s testimony, it shows enormous public interest.  

Photo Courtesy of CNN  

Local News 12 reports that a FOIA request has numerous setbacks making it challenging to gather information as journalists. And with daily news to report, it’s hard to rely solely on a FOIA request to be fulfilled in a timely fashion. In more recent news, New Jersey gun laws were updated. According to Crump, “there are an estimated one million gun owners with standard capacity magazines (10+ rounds) in the state of New Jersey.” New Jersey passed a law making these magazines illegal back in 2018. Organization Ammoland sent a FOIA request to see how many magazines were confiscated by the state police. According to Ammonland, “Sergeant Kristina Pados of the New Jersey State Police says, “The gun owners of New Jersey have surrendered no magazines.” Ammoland also emphasized it took more than one FOIA request to get a response. With the United States having so many mass shootings, this information is vital to the community and should be made public.  

Sources inside the New Jersey law enforcement community explain they have not received any guidance on how to enforce the magazine ban. It’s evident this law was a failure, and Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey refused to comment on the issue. This example displays how an FOIA request undergoes a slow process and can even get ignored. A topic that involves gun laws is exceptionally vital information to the public. Many agencies are reluctant to release information that can cause controversy, however, it is a right under law to share certain information. Their reasoning suggests many agencies feel some information can tarnish their organization’s reputation.  

Ultimately the Freedom of Information Act has gaping loopholes but is still a vital tool. The issues I’ve uncovered are in how FOIA’s can be denied, delayed, or dismissed. There will be general challenges, but we must seek the truth and provide valid information to our audience.  

Photo Courtesy of News 12  

References  

Crump, J. (2019, April 16). FOIA Request Confirms Zero Standard Capacity Magazines Turned In to NJ State Police. Retrieved from https://www.ammoland.com/2019/04/foia-request- confirms-zero-standard-capacity-magazines-turned-in-to-nj-state-police/#axzz5yU0cqH1s  

History.com Editors. (2018, May 10). Freedom of Information Act. Retrieved from  

https://www.history.com/topics/1960s/freedom-of-information-act

(n.d.). Gun Laws. Retrieved from https://injury.findlaw.com/product-liability/gun-laws.html