Michael Morisy didn’t get the answer he was looking for after making a Freedom of Information Act request from the National Security Agency. Hoping to find out more about the NSA’s Utah Data Center, Morisy made the FOIA request as a journalist from MuckRock, a public records request service he cofounded.
The NSA referred to Morisy as a non-media requester, which results in increased fees. Morisy says NSA’s response is a blow against transparency and plans on appealing.
“My entire career has been in journalism. I have written thousands of articles on topics ranging from national security to wasteful spending for publications ranging from the New York Daily News to the Boston Globe, my current employer,” he said via email, noting that several media outlets have written about MuckRock and referred to it as a news site. “It’s a little puzzling that the NSA couldn’t take the time to either independently verify that if they didn’t want to take my word on it.”
In its response, the NSA explained why it doesn’t consider him to be a journalist:
The first criterion that must be met to be considered a representative of the media is that the requester gathers the information in the public interest. Representatives of the news media normally are organized to seek out and gather information generated by public interest, not information generated by internal interests the individuals or organizations may have. This is what qualifies the individuals or organizations to be considered as members of the news media.
Some journalists responded to the NSA’s response this week:
— Damon Kiesow (@dkiesow) July 3, 2013
The NSA also said that Morisy’s request is “extensive and will require an elaborate search,” meaning it will likely take longer to process. Additionally, the NSA denied Morisy’s request for a fee waiver, saying he did not disclose how the information he wants to obtain will “contribute to public understanding.”
Morisy finds it “mind-boggling” that the NSA classified his request as complex.
“This isn’t a fishing expedition,” he said. “It’s a narrowly written request where the materials should be more or less together and easily accessible.”
Morisy says he regularly gets rejections from federal agencies and hasn’t had many problems appealing. He plans to ask the NSA FOIA office if he can further clarify his request.
Friday afternoon, just before this article was published, Morisy got a rejection letter from the NSA following a different FOIA request he made for Edward Snowden’s employment files.
It’s “a good illustration,” he said, “of just how little the NSA lets out.”