As the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out on their blog yesterday, the Freedom Of Information Act was signed into law on July 4 1966. It is a fantastic tool. Yes, it leaves much to be desired - as some agencies really like to stonewall. However, it does have its uses.
One of the perks of graduate school, is that as an academic researcher working in the public interest, I'm eligible for fee waivers for all of my FOIA requests. I can request whatever I want, and as along as it's reasonably related to my research, I'm spared the 10 cents per page photocopy charges + hourly fees for government employee research time.
FOIA requests take time. However, I've filed several over the past year, with some success, and some rejections. Using the Indiana State equivalent of FOIA a couple months ago, I was able to gain quite a bit of information on a phishing attack that targeted university students the year before. I've also successfully used it to get police reports from the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority regarding a potentially illegal incident where a police officer compelled me to show my drivers license after I attempted to assert my right to fly without ID.
On May 31 2006, Swedish law enforcement raided and seized servers used by the popular bit torrent tracker/website The Pirate Bay. Press reports at the time claimed that the raid was a result of significant US pressure. Some reports hinted at more direct involvement by the US government.
Thus, in September of 2006, the first FOIA request I filed was to the US State Department to get a copy of any documents relating to US knowledge of or involvement in the raid on The Pirate Bay.
I recently got 27 pages of documents, mostly uncensored, back from the State Department. While it's possible that they're withholding some information, from the documents that they've given me, it looks like the Swedish authorities organized the raid on their own. The US government was clearly putting strong pressure on the Swedes, but it does not appear as though the US government had advanced notice of, or any direct involvement in the raid.
All 27 pages of documents have been scanned and placed online.
Happy birthday FOIA!