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

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

"The Ringer," the first track on Eminem's 2018 album, Kamikaze, includes a line that piqued BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold's curiosity: the rapper claimed the Secret Service visited him due to some controversial lyrics about Ivanka Trump. To find out if it was true, Leopold filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the federal law that allows anyone to demand access to government records.

After a year of delays, the Secret Service provided Leopold 40 pages about the interview with the real Slim Shady, including a note that he was "exhibiting inappropriate behavior."

This wasn't the first time government transparency has intersected with hip-hop. Type "Freedom of Information" into Genius.com (the site formerly known as Rap Genius) and you'll turn up tracks by Sage Francis and Scroobius Pip using FOIA as lyrical inspiration. The hip-hop duo Emanon sampled Joanna Newsom for "Shine Your Light," in which they declare that due to redactions of FOIA documents, we're "never gonna see the true history of this nation." Even George Clinton, whom many rappers cite as inspiration, chanted about "getting funky" with the freedom of information on the track "Maximumisness."

There's nothing quite like an envelope of freshly photocopied documents to make a journalist or open-government advocate break into song. But there's also nothing that brings the melody to a record-scratching halt than the government withholding information without due cause.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is an international nonprofit based in San Francisco that fights to uphold civil liberties in the digital age — work that includes filing hundreds of public records requests each year with a variety of government agencies. In collaboration with the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, we also compile "The Foilies," a list of anti-awards that name-and-shame government officials and corporations that stymie the public's right to know.

Now in its sixth year, The Foilies are part of the annual Sunshine Week festivities, when news and advocacy organizations celebrate and bring attention to state and federal open-records laws that allow us to hold the powerful to account.

And the winners are....

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