For Activists, Information Is Not Free
Just because it’s called the Freedom of Information Act, doesn’t mean the information is free. In fact, if you’re an activist or a journalist trying to investigate the police, chances are it’s going to cost you, as reporters discovered last year when they tried to obtain documents pertaining to the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
In their efforts to report the story, reporters were being charging exorbitant fees for records that are supposed to be released to the media for free. Missouri has an open records law, yet according to the Associated Press, news agencies were being charged thousands of dollars, “nearly ten times the cost of a government employee's salary" to retrieve government records.
Price gouging is one heck of an effective way to stall and stymie public oversight.
As Hamid Khan of the LA Coalition against Spying points out, this city price gouging is going on just as surveillance is sprawling. The Intercept reported this July that the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring Black Lives Matter activists, their Facebook, Twitter and social media accounts, and their meetings, since the first days after Brown's killing.
You only need to watch Stanley Nelson’s new documentary about the government’s deadly assault on the Black Panthers to see how history could repeat.
The best antidote to heat is light. In an attempt to expose this movement surveillance—and I suspect make a point about Freedom of Information that’s not so free—the online activist group Color of Change is launching a fundraising push. Unlike the well-funded Intercept, which used FOIA requests to obtain documentation of spying, activists don’t tend to have the money to find out if they’re being spied on. You can help.
Watch my interview with Hamid Khan about his work with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, this week on The Laura Flanders Show on KCET/LINKtv and TeleSUR. Find all my interviews and reports at LauraFlanders.com. To tell me what you think, write to Laura@LauraFlanders.com.