FOIA Nets Letters from Companies that Didn't Want Records Released

The Wall Street Journal has turned a tried and true Freedom of Information Act tactic on its head with some interesting results. In an instance reported in today's Journal, the paper used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain letters written by companies and individuals who wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration requesting that their private jet flight plans be excluded from public flight tracker databases.  The letters were written in 2011 to comply with a then FAA policy requiring a letter citing a "valid security concern" in order to have flight plans excluded.  The letters cited everything from the security concerns of former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs (overly aggressive autograph seekers) to those of several defense contractors.

While "FOIAing the FOIAs" (i.e., requesting copies of letters of request) is done routinely in public records research, this is the first instance we have seen where a news agency has requested someone's request to keep information private.

This may be the last time we see something like this since state and federal agencies typically don't request that individuals establish the grounds for withholding information and the FAA's precedent setting move in this area was shutdown by Congress shortly after it was started.

The Wall Street Journal story and correspondence released by the paper here.