Judge tries to speed up FOIA case over “acoustic attacks”


An anti-secrecy group and New Yorker magazine are trying to force the State Department to disclose information about purported “acoustic attacks” in Havana that led to a worsening of U.S.-Cuba relations.
The James Madison Project, which seeks accountability in government, and the magazine sued after their Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests didn’t produce the documents they were seeking. See Lawyer: U.S. should disclose secrets about “acoustic attacks” and State Department won’t budge on “acoustic attacks”.
On July 1, the State Department said it is still looking for records related to the supposed attacks.

Defendant is still in the process of searching for materials responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request and has located over 135,000 pages of potentially responsive records so far. The search is still in progress, so a date for completion of all processing cannot be meaningfully estimated at this time.

On July 8, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the parties to meet “in an effort to narrow the request for documents and file a status report by Aug. 2, 2019.”
A July 1 status report stated:

While the searches are being completed, Defendant has been processing an average of 300 pages of potentially responsive records each month. Plaintiffs object to the 300 page production and believes the number should be higher, such as 750 pages per month. If the Court would like more information, the Department would be happy to provide a declaration with information concerning the Department’s FOIA resources, and its capabilities regarding processing Plaintiff’s FOIA request. The Department made productions of relevant, non-exempt records on May 9, 2019 and June 9, 2019. The Department anticipates making future productions on or about the 9th calendar day of each month.
Defendant and Plaintiff are also discussing possible proposals that might narrow the focus of materials.

At 300 pages per day, the State Department would need 450 months – or 37.5 years – to process the FOIA request.
If the department processed 750 pages per day, that time would be reduced to 180 months – or 15 years.
In their July 1 status report, the parties proposed filing an updated status report by Aug. 30. Judge Berman cut that deadline to Aug. 2 to try to move things along more quickly.

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