Friday, July 17, 2015

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Obama administration struck  blow against investigative journalism under the guise of freedom of information.

Bravo. Seriously, this is well played:

Starting this week, seven agencies — including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — launched a new effort to put online the records they distribute to requesters under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

So if a journalist, nonprofit group or corporation asks for the records, what they see, the public also will see. ...

The “release to one is release to all” policy will start as a six-month pilot at the EPA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and within some offices at the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the National Archives and Records Administration.

(The EPA has been publishing its FOIA responses online since 2013).

And this is being portrayed as more transparency! With reporters acting as spoiled brats for resisting it! As I said, well played, Obama administration. I tip my hat to you.

Ponder this. A reporter works their sources to suspect something odd is going on in the government (I know, I'm reaching with these largely administration stenographers, but bear with me); the reporter files a FOIA request in order to see if their suspicions are correct; the administration releases the information to the world.

And now the reporter has their Pulitzer Prize-winning story potentially revealed to all their competitors who could jump into the game and beat the reporter who did the leg work in getting the story into print.

So under the new rules, the reporter doesn't file the FOIA. Because why do the work for others? Maybe if the reporter gets enough information on their own, they build the story without a FOIA request. Maybe.

Or maybe the story simply never gets written. Mission accomplished.

Far better for actual government transparency would be a rule that provides a three-month countdown to releasing the information to all. That would put pressure on the reporter to complete the story.

For all their European social-democrat inclinations, the Obama administration knows fully well that when everyone owns the requested information, nobody does.

Release to to all means release to no one.