(QESP Editor’s Note: Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) requests to the Australian Public Service are often heavily redacted but a recent US blog suggests their redactions are even worse. This tongue in cheek post by Kathryn Rubino, an editor at Above the Law, shows that comic book characters have privacy rights too. )

(QESP Editor’s Note: The following is a reprint of an Above The Law article. The original can be found at https://abovethelaw.com/2018/05/when-in-doubt-redact-it-all-fbi-gets-redaction-happy-with-foia-request/ )

When In Doubt Redact It All — FBI Gets Redaction Happy With FOIA Request

The privacy rights of fictional characters are real, yo.

I mean obviously they aren’t, but you wouldn’t know that from reviewing documents the FBI recently produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The FBI produced documents related to Scientology pursuant to a request by Emma Best, an investigative journalist at MuckRock. Sure, she had to sue the agency because they denied her FOIA request at first, but now they’re producing the documents at a rate of about 500 pages per month, subject to privacy redactions.

Amongst the documents produced is a one act play written by the Church of Scientology that features characters from the comic Superman, set in Clark Kent’s workplace — The Daily Planet. And you’ll never believe this [read: you absolutely will believe this], but the FBI redacted out the names of fictional DC characters. Take a look at their handiwork:

As you can imagine the reports and general reaction about the, erm, oversight have been brutal:

Best said the redactions signify the typical lack of due diligence on the FBI part when it comes to processing public records requests. “It’s easy to laugh at this, and it is laughable, but it also highlights how bad the FBI is when it comes to FOIA,” she said. “There are no explanations for this aside from gross incompetence, negligence, and/or bad faith.”

Except the error is totally understandable. Worthy of derision and mockery to be sure, but I get it. I’ve been that attorney tasked with drawing tiny boxes on page after page after page of documents for days… weeks… months on end. It is tedious work. Mistakes? They happen. And everyone involved would much rather you over redact than produce information that should be redacted.

And it isn’t like you are really reading the documents for substance, you can’t hit anywhere near an acceptable rate if you’re taking the time to read and comprehend the document. No, you’re scanning the documents looking for the material that needs to be redacted, drawing a little box and moving the hell on.

Yes, some will probably get yelled at over this. They probably even deserve it. But it is far from a unique story.


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