Interesting, first-of-it-kind Freedom of Information Act decision Tuesday, as a federal judge blocks what may perhaps be best described as a lateral FOIA pass.
In a 12-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle tossed a FOIA lawsuit filed by Barbara Feinman, journalism director at Georgetown University's English Department. Feinman, who also directs the Pearl Project -- an investigative reporting effort named for murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- sought FBI records on suspected terrorist Qari Ismail.
Here's the unusual part. The original FOIA request was filed by a Catherine Beirne. The FBI replied it couldn't provide documents unless she presented either proof of Ismail's death or his privacy waiver. (That, Suits & Sentences would like to see: "Dear FBI: please provide Ms. Feinman any secret document she desires. Sincerely, Qari Ismail.")
Beirne subsequently declared that she had transferred the "rights and interest" in her FOIA request to Feinman, who then filed a lawsuit to compel FBI disclosure. Beirne is not otherwise identified, but Suits & Sentences is speculating that she was a student who had graduated and hence was no longer involved in the project.
The suit challenged the FBI's refusal to provide certain files pending proof of death or a privacy waiver. Potentially, this could crack open lots of files. But while Washingtonian editor Garrett Graff is continuing to pursue this same legal approach, regarding files on former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and others, Judge Segal Huvelle determined that Feinman lacked standing to sue since she hadn't filed the original FOIA request.
The judge cites potential administrative hassles, among other problems:
"An individual who informs an agency that she is the assignee of a requester’s FOIA rights may be incorrect for a number of reasons...(and) it would be unreasonable to expect overburdened FOIA administrators to verify the validity of an assignment by determining whether it complies with local law and
reflects the original requester’s actual intent."