Entries Tagged "FOIA"

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Secret Information Is More Trusted

This is an interesting, if slightly disturbing, result:

In one experiment, we had subjects read two government policy papers from 1995, one from the State Department and the other from the National Security Council, concerning United States intervention to stop the sale of fighter jets between foreign countries.

The documents, both of which were real papers released through the Freedom of Information Act, argued different sides of the issue. Depending on random assignment, one was described as having been previously classified, the other as being always public. Most people in the study thought that whichever document had been “classified” contained more accurate and well-reasoned information than the public document.

In another experiment, people read a real government memo from 1978 written by members of the National Security Council about the sale of fighter jets to Taiwan; we then explained that the council used the information to make decisions. Again, depending on random assignment, some people were told that the document had been secret and for exclusive use by the council, and that it had been recently declassified under the Freedom of Information Act. Others were told that the document had always been public.

As we expected, people who thought the information was secret deemed it more useful, important and accurate than did those who thought it was public. And people judged the National Security Council’s actions based on the information as more prudent and wise when they believed the document had been secret.


Our study helps explain the public’s support for government intelligence gathering. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported that a majority of Americans thought it was acceptable for the N.S.A. to track Americans’ phone activity to investigate terrorism. Some frustrated commentators have concluded that Americans have much less respect for their own privacy than they should.

But our research suggests another conclusion: the secret nature of the program itself may lead the public to assume that the information it gathers is valuable, without even examining what that information is or how it might be used.

Original paper abstract; the full paper is behind a paywall.

Posted on July 26, 2013 at 6:25 AMView Comments

State Department Redacts Wikileaks Cables

The ACLU filed a FOIA request for a bunch of cables that Wikileaks had already released complete versions of. This is what happened:

The agency released redacted versions of 11 and withheld the other 12 in full.

The five excerpts below show the government’s selective and self-serving decisions to withhold information. Because the leaked versions of these cables have already been widely distributed, the redacted releases provide unique insight into the government’s selective decisions to hide information from the American public.

Click on the link to see what was redacted.

EDITED TO ADD (3/2): Commentary:

The Freedom of Information Act provides exceptions for a number of classes of information, but the State Department’s declassification decisions appear to be based not on the criteria specified in the statute, but rather on whether the documents embarrass the US or portray the US in a negative light.

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 1:32 PMView Comments

DHS's Files on Travelers

This is interesting:

I had been curious about what’s in my travel dossier, so I made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy. I’m posting here a few sample pages of what officials sent me.

My biggest surprise was that the Internet Protocol (I.P.) address of the computer used to buy my tickets via a Web agency was noted. On the first document image posted here, I’ve circled in red the I.P. address of the computer used to buy my pair of airline tickets.


The rest of my file contained details about my ticketed itineraries, the amount I paid for tickets, and the airports I passed through overseas. My credit card number was not listed, nor were any hotels I’ve visited. In two cases, the basic identifying information about my traveling companion (whose ticket was part of the same purchase as mine) was included in the file. Perhaps that information was included by mistake.

Posted on January 12, 2009 at 5:15 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.