FirstNet Rejects FOIA Request for State Plan Information, AT&T Contracts
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) rejected a request for records from an attorney who specializes in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, saying the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act exempts FirstNet from FOIA requirements.

Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, filed multiple requests related to FirstNet state plans, contracts with AT&T and other items, on behalf of his client Stephen Whitaker and Dave Gram with VTDigger, an independent, investigative news organization covering Vermont.

McClanahan sent separate FOIA requests to the Department of Commerce (DOC) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). “To the extent that there are responsive records to these requests, they would be FirstNet records,” said a letter from FirstNet Senior Counsel Natasha C. Robinson Coates to McClanahan. “Thus on Sept. 6, 2017, NTIA forwarded your request to FirstNet for processing and direct response.

The FOIA requests included the following:
• All user comments submitted to FirstNet’s state plans portal
• All communications from any state government officials to FirstNet, which the agency considers to be agreements (or proposed agreements) to opt in to the FirstNet system
• All privacy impact assessments (PIAs) created for systems affiliated with FirstNet
• All contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding, etc. with AT&T pertaining to FirstNet

“Section 6206(d)(2) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (47 U.S.C. 1426(d)(2)) exempts FirstNet from the requirements of FOIA,” the FirstNet letter said. “Accordingly, we do not undertake a search of our files for requested records or furnish such records to requestors. Further, the requested information constitutes internal (nonpublic) agency records that FirstNet has determined not to make publicly available at this time. Therefore, this letter closes your pending request before FirstNet.”

Whitaker said he is continuing to pursue the requests with the DOC because he said it is obligated to perform a PIA because FirstNet is under its purview.

A PIA is analysis of how information in identifiable form is collected, maintained, stored, and disseminated, in addition to examining and evaluating the privacy risks and the protections and processes for handling information to mitigate those privacy risks, according to the DOC website.

“We plan to pursue litigation, but we will exhaust our administrative remedies first,” said Whitaker, who describes himself as a transparency advocate.

Whitaker was successful in receiving a redacted version of Vermont’s state plan after FOIA requests to two state agencies.

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Comments
On 9/13/17, Dr Myers said:
The issue with AT&T taking the heat for what has transpired so far that is the collapse of the public safety grade facade is not entirely the fault of AT&T. In fact the majority of the fault lays with the decision makers of the FirstNet organization who sold the solution as the basis for its RFP creation to the FirstNet board. AT&T is doing what AT&T should be doing; that is protecting its turf, defending its assets and insuring its shareholders are profitable. The leadership of the FirstNet organization were the ones that sold the RFP award to the FirstNet board and had plenty of time to state that the RFP should not be awarded because it did not meet the requirements. I'm afraid that AT&T's position on this is what should be expected. It is FirstNet that fails to stand up and declare the proposed solution is null and void.

On 9/13/17, Bill Collinson said:
Not sure how this has been interpreted as excluding FirstNet from FOIA

d EXEMPTION FROM CERTAIN LAWS. Any action taken or
decisions made by the First Responder Network Authority shall
be exempt from the requirements of
1 section 3506 of title 44 United States Code commonly
referred to as the Paperwork Reduction Act
2 chapter 5 of title 5 United States Code commonly
referred to as the Administrative Procedures Act and
3 chapter 6 of title 5 United States Code commonly
referred to as the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

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