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Public Citizen v. Department of Education (Internet policy FOIA)

The Department of Education operates Wi-Fi networks that it makes available to visitors attending meetings at its headquarters and other offices.  These Wi-Fi networks enable users who log on through their smartphones or other electronic devices to access the Internet.  The Department also operates an internal network that allows Department personnel to access the Internet through their work computers or other work devices.

Public Citizen discovered that the Department had been blocking users of its Wi-Fi and internal networks from accessing Public Citizen’s website, www.citizen.org.  Users who attempted to access Public Citizen’s website received an error message stating that Public Citizen’s web address was “in violation of your Internet usage policy” and that the website fell within “Category: Advocacy Organization.”

In February 2019, Public Citizen submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department to obtain records about the agency’s Internet usage policies. The Department responded with a link to its website that did not contain the information requested by Public Citizen. Public Citizen filed an administrative appeal with the Department, but the Department failed to respond to the appeal with the statutory deadline.  Public Citizen filed suit against the Department on May 14, 2019, to compel the Department to undertake an adequate search for responsive records and disclose them in full.

In September 2019, after the Department agreed to adjust its web filtering policy to unblock websites categorized as Advocacy Organizations on its networks, we voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit.