The 2020 Foilies Awards: Recognizing the year’s worst in government transparency 

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click to enlarge CAITLYN CRITES
  • Caitlyn Crites

The Catalog Is Out of the Bag Award

Special Services Group

In response to a California Public Records Act request for information about surveillance technology, the Irvine Police Department in California provided researchers at MuckRock and Open the Government with a catalog called the "Black Book" from a secretive company called Special Services Group. The catalog advertised a range of spy devices that would make Q drool, including cameras that can be concealed in gravestones, vacuum cleaners, and baby car seats.

But, as Vice's Motherboard prepared to publish a story on the documents, Special Services Group stepped out of the shadows to issue sweeping legal threats, arguing that by publishing the documents, researchers were violating everything from federal copyright law to arms control regulations. Vice, MuckRock, and Open the Government rightfully resisted the censorship threat, since that's not how it works. Special Services should have taken its beef to the city's law firm, which reviewed and then released the documents.

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