Students Eligible for Reduced Records Fees

     (CN) — Students who file Freedom of Information Act requests with the government qualify for reduced processing fees, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
     While studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, Kathryn Sack submitted six Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests between 2009 and 2011 for records about the U.S. Defense Department’s use of polygraph examinations. She said she planned to use the documents for her dissertation on polygraph bias.
     After a protracted fight with several agencies, the D.C. Circuit ultimately ruled Friday that the responsive documents found by the Department of Defense are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.
     “The government has satisfactorily explained how polygraph examinations serve law enforcement purposes,” which qualifies them to remain confidential, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said, writing for a three-judge panel.
     However, the court agreed with Sack that her and other students are eligible for reduced FOIA fees.
     “The government has long determined that teachers who make FOIA requests are eligible for those reduced fees because teachers are part of an educational institution,” Kavanaugh said. “But at the same time, the government has determined that students who make FOIA requests are not eligible for those reduced fees because they are supposedly not part of an educational institution.” (Emphasis in original.)
     Making a FOIA request can be costly — Sack’s processing fee came to $900 — which can deter ordinary citizens, especially students with little means, from requesting government records.
     The panel found that classifying teachers as part of an “educational institution,” but not students, made no sense.
     “If teachers can qualify for reduced fees, so can students,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Students who make FOIA requests to further their coursework or other school-sponsored activities are eligible for reduced fees under FOIA because students, like teachers, are part of an educational institution.”

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