Who Languishes in IND Detention Centers? We Can’t Tell Ya…

Nice look at an absolutely infuriating developmen

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

t….

Who’s being held in immigration detention centers?

lawsuit filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this week hopes to shed more light on that, asking for information like the demographic breakdown of detainees and internal inspection records of all detention facilities.

But the goal of the suit, filed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering organization based at Syracuse University, is about much more than just getting this information.

“We’re trying to establish the principle that they have to give us data,” said David Burnham, co-director of TRAC. “We’ve been negotiating with them for years at the administrative level.”

Since 9/11, the flow of information from federal agencies like ICE has tightened, and courts have backed them up. That includes aggregate data that doesn’t identify individuals by name.

The rationale is something legal scholars call the “mosaic theory.” The idea is that tiny bits of information might seem innocuous, but when used collectively, could be a threat to national security.

Perhaps the most notable example of information-turned-dangerous goes back to the trials over the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which some say help enabled the 9/11 attacks. During the trial, U.S. government intelligence-gathering methods were made public.

The mosaic theory has existed in case law since 1972, but was more aggressively employed by the Bush administration and continues to be applied by the Obama administration, according to Charles N. Davis, professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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See How Many Federal FOIAs are Generating Withholding, Litigation…

Details about every new court challenge to the withholding of information by the Obama Administration are now available on a new website developed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

Designed to bring more transparency to FOIA withholding decisions, the new site — http://FOIAproject.org — gives the American people a way to track all instances in which a federal agency’s decision to deny government records has become the subject of a suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since October 1, 2009.

The site, supported with a grant from the CS Fund/Warsh-Mott Legacy, is updated daily with the latest court FOIA filings and provides extensive information about the names of withholding agency, the names of the plaintiffs, the location where the action was brought, along with the actual complaint and attachments that were filed.

TRAC sees this ground-breaking website as only a first step in a much broader community effort to expand the withholding decisions covered, and to improve the site’s features. While this first phase focuses on court challenges to withholding, later phases are planned to expand coverage to turndowns at the initial request and administrative appeal levels. The ultimate goal: to mobilize the power of public exposure to encourage a more transparent government.

Links on the new site allow the public to offer suggestions and to volunteer to help on the project. Currently under consideration is the addition of a mechanism by which requestors can post current egregious examples of FOIA withholding decisions to share with a wider audience.

TRAC, a part of Syracuse University, was established more than two decades ago to obtain detailed information from various federal agencies under the FOIA, check its accuracy and completeness and make the data available to the public through its two web sites, http://trac.syr.edu and http://tracfed.syr.edu. Over the years, this effort has required TRAC to file suits in federal court against the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of Personnel Management, the National Archives and Records Administration, and various components of the Justice Department including the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and the Civil Division.

 

David Burnham and Susan B. Long, co-directors

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse

Syracuse University

 

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