After controversy, FBI removes ID requirement for eFOIA requests
The FBI has launched a second public beta version of its online portal for processing Freedom of Information Act requests — without the controversial requirement that users submit a copy of government photo ID in order for their requests to be considered.
The revamped version of the portal is called eFOIPA, adding a “P” to signify that users are now able to file Privacy Act requests for their own FBI files, as well as FOIA requests, online. This second beta test will run for four months, at which point it will close for review and analysis pending future enhancements, according to a blog post from the agency Monday.
The ID mandate, included in the system’s first beta run, sparked an outcry from government transparency advocates and lawmakers alike, who asserted that there was no basis in case law or policy to support such a stipulation.
[Read more: Exclusive: The FBI wants your ID if you want their information]
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote to FBI Director James Comey requesting an explanation for what he called an arbitrary demand with troubling implications.
“I write to express my strong concern that the ID requirement presents serious legal and privacy concerns. The FBI’s new eFOIA system imposes a requirement that can neither be found in statutory law nor case law,” the letter, dated Dec. 14, 2015, states. “For how long does the FBI plan to retain the data from the ID scans? Who has access to it? Are there minimization standards in place? Is any of the data being entered into facial recognition databases?”
He ended by calling the requirement “overly intrusive and unnecessary.”
[Read more: Sen. Wyden questions FBI on FOIA ID requirement]
Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told FedScoop that the removal of the requirement is a signal that the FBI took the backlash to heart.
“It’s to their credit that they are being responsive to public criticism. I can imagine the bureau trying to steamroll through and saying ‘its our way or the high way.’ And they didn’t do that,” he said.
“That’s the way things should work when agencies overstep their bounds and the public complains. They should react accordingly.”
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.