Reclaim The Records launches its biggest FOIA request ever, for BILLIONS of digital images and associated text metadata, from the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) #records
Hello again from Reclaim The Records! We're writing today, to let you know that we just filed the single largest Freedom of Information Act request in our organization's history, for billions of historical records. Yes, billions!
And this time, we're not just taking on a single city or state archive or agency. No, we're trying to get these billions of files from none other than the United States National Archives and Records Administration, NARA.
What kind of files? Oh, you know, basically just everything that was ever digitized through their long-running public-private digitization partnership program.
Like, say, the Census. Immigration records. Military files. Everything.
Most of these records were digitized years ago, through NARA's public-private digitization partnership program, but even after the embargo periods ended, NARA never got around to making the data available on their own website. And then they dodged and denied any informal requests that were made for even small parts of that data. For example, we once tried getting a digital copy of the 1910 US Federal Census from NARA, as a test case, a guinea pig. And indeed, despite many back-and-forth e-mails, NARA refused to hand over the files to us, saying just that all the data would go online on the NARA website or through their API access eventually. (Spoiler: it did not.)
In other words, all these amazing historical digital records of AMerican history remained available online only through expensive subscription websites, and not through the Archives, even though the files actually belong to the American taxpayers. Not cool.
We're working with a great FOIA lawyer on this one, a guy who just won the FOIA case against the US Department of Justice for the unredacted version of the Mueller Report two weeks ago. And now he's helping the genealogists. And when we get this NARA data, and we're pretty sure we're going to get it one way or another, we're going to put it all online, for free. No strings attached. Anyone will be able to do anything they want with the records, both the digitized images and the text metadata that goes along with them.
Here's the actual text of the FOIA request we sent to NARA yesterday morning:
It's really, really long, but there is a lot of background information we need to present, to put the FOIA request in its proper context -- and to help explain the whole situation to the judge, should we need to sue.
Note that this is still a FOIA request, not a full-on FOIA lawsuit just yet, but it very well might become one in the near future, depending on whether NARA chooses to follow the law and release all the records, or not.
We hope they will. But we're ready to sue if they don't.
And if you're as excited about this new FOIA request (and potential new lawsuit target) as we are, we hope you'll consider making a donation to our non-profit organization, so we can keep fighting for open records from every level of our government, from the smallest city clerk's office to the actual no-joke National Archives itself.
Public records belong to the public, and not just to people who can afford hundreds of dollars a year for subscription websites. Help us get these records back and put them online -- for free -- for everyone!
From all of us at Reclaim The Records, thank you for your support! 🤗
- Brooke Schreier Ganz
Mill Valley, California
President and Founder, Reclaim The Records