A Federal FOIA Tip on “Secured Files”
Here’s a handy tip for people using the federal Freedom of Information Act and encountering “secured” PDF files (called RODs and FEIS), which prevent copying of the content.
This was posted by Bob Gellman, a consultant in Washington, D.C.
According to Gellman, the FOIA requires an agency —
(a)(3)(B) In making any record available to a person under this
paragraph, an agency shall provide the record in any form or format
requested by the person if the record is readily reproducible by
the agency in that form or format. Each agency shall make
reasonable efforts to maintain its records in forms or formats that
are reproducible for purposes of this section.
The answer is to request the document in an unlocked format.
Another relevant statute is the Paperwork Reduction Act Amendments of 1995, which provides at 44 USC 3506:
(d) With respect to information dissemination, each agency shall—
(1) ensure that the public has timely and equitable access to the agency’s public information, including ensuring such access through—
(A) encouraging a diversity of public and private sources for information based on government public information;
(B) in cases in which the agency provides public information maintained in electronic format, providing timely and equitable access to the underlying data (in whole or in part); and
(C) agency dissemination of public information in an efficient, effective, and economical manner;
(2) regularly solicit and consider public input on the agency’s information dissemination activities;
(3) provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information dissemination products; and
(4) not, except where specifically authorized by statute
(A) establish an exclusive, restricted, or other distribution arrangement that interferes with timely and equitable availability of public information to the public;
(B) restrict or regulate the use, resale, or redissemination of public information by the public;
(C) charge fees or royalties for resale or redissemination of public information; or
(D) establish user fees for public information that exceed the cost of dissemination.
Several provisions here may be helpful, including (4)(A), which prohibits “an exclusive, restricted, or other distribution arrangement that interferes with timely and equitable availability of public information to the public.”