Ethan W. Kent commented:
"it seems to me that 1) it has probably taken much time and effort to scan the huge number of Images already available online via that Catalog"
Yes, it did. And it was clearly known to all of the "partner organizations" (i.e. Ancestry.com, Archives.com, Fold3.com, FamilySearch, etc.) right from the outset that all their work to digitize and transcribe these microfilm or paper records would be returned to the American public when their "embargo period" of exclusivity ran out. In most cases, those embargo periods have been over for a decade, and in some cases, those embargo periods have been over for two decades!
(If we were really playing hardball, we probably could choose to challenge the legality of a government archive making any kind of exclusivity deal on access to public materials, or the very idea of an embargo period at all! But for the purposes of this FOIA request, we are not touching that issue, at the moment.)
The records, both the images and the associated text metadata, belong to the public, full stop. We want them back -- and we want to put them all online for free. Honestly, NARA should really have been the ones to do that part, but with very limited exceptions they just didn't release the material. So now we're going to hold their feet to the fire and make it happen.
"2) it will take much more time to scan everything (even everything not still "classified"),"
Ah, but we're not asking NARA to scan brand new things! We're only asking them in this FOIA request for copies of billions of records that have already been scanned and transcribed directly under their public-private partnership program, records that have been sitting on a shelf waiting to be freely released to the public for years. In practice, in all these years, most of these could only be seen or used on Ancestry.com or their subsidiary companies, if you had a subscription, or multiple subscriptions. That's unacceptable. Government agencies should not be enabling private monopolies on public data.
"Maybe the lawsuit could at least wait until after (G-d willing) the current epidemic in the US ends?"
It's not a lawsuit yet, still just a request. We're all waiting to find out how NARA wants to handle the request, follow the law or break the law. We're hopeful they're going to comply.
That being said, if we do have to sue them, we will not wait out the end of the pandemic, and we will probably not even wait out the end of the year. Two decades of locked-up and monetized public files is quite long enough to wait.
Also, FYI, we at Reclaim The Records did hold off on filing any new Freedom of Information lawsuits against government agencies over the past 7-8 months -- which is, for us, quite a long time! But we held off making this particular FOIA request to NARA for quite a while, because the people at NARA who process FOIA requests from the public were simply not back in the building yet. (Legally speaking, government agencies were not actually allowed to stop processing FOIA requests because of the pandemic, though in practice a whole lot of them did.)
But NARA is right now moving to "Phase Two" of their re-opening procedures, which explicitly includes re-opening their FOIA division. And so we finally sent this long-awaited FOIA request on Monday, to get to the head of the line.
We want our records back.
- Brooke Schreier Ganz
Mill Valley, California