On paper at least, when a federal agency receives a FOIA request, it’s required to respond with either a denial or a so-called “grant of access” within the span of 20 business days. As the CDT points out in its suit, even if every requested document can’t be released in this time frame, at the very least the agency should notify which documents are on the table, which are being withheld, and give the party asking for these docs the right to appeal these decisions.
By that rationale, when the CDT filed its initial FOIA request in mid-August 2019, it should have heard a response sometime in mid-September. Instead, it alleges that it hasn’t gotten a substantial request to date. Even USCIS—the only agency to offer any sort of timeline for wrangling these requested documents—initially estimated it would take until the end of December. In the 13 months since its self-set deadline, the CDT alleges the agency hasn’t returned any of the records requested.
“The public deserves to know how the government scrutinizes social media data when deciding who can enter or stay in the country,” said CDT General Counsel Avery Gardiner in a statement. “Government surveillance has necessary limits, particularly constitutional ones.”