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Working with Documenting COVID-19 to understand the epidemic

Working with Documenting COVID-19 to understand the epidemic

The project will build a shared repository to benefit newsrooms around the country.

Written by Michael Morisy
Edited by Beryl Lipton

Building on our COVID Public Info partnership, we’re excited to announce that we’re combining efforts with Documenting COVID-19. The project, based out of Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation, is similarly working to use public records to build a shared repository to advance understanding of the impact of the pandemic.

Partnering will help us better serve newsrooms around the country while gathering a more comprehensive collection of records requests, databases, and other primary source materials.

Today, Documenting COVID-19 has launched two pages that highlight the work done so far and make it more easily accessible: The Examiners Project, which aims to compile detailed records on COVID-19 deaths from local medical examiners and coroners across the U.S., and The Algorithms Project, which aims to obtain information about state and federal agencies’ use of algorithms and other predictive tools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s more about each project below.

We’re also want to use the increased resources to help more newsrooms report in new ways on the epidemic. If you’re interested in collaborating email

We’re grateful for the critical support of COVID Public Info provided by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University. Without it, we would not have been able to ramp this project up and file hundreds of requests on key issues facing communities around the country. Covid Public Info was started and managed by Outlier Media, the MuckRock Foundation, Matt Kiefer, and Garance Burke

The Examiners Project

The Examiners Project aims to compile detailed records on COVID-19 deaths from local medical examiners and coroners across the U.S. The records are maintained separately from health authorities and often include case details that local governments do not make public, including the names; race and ethnicities; addresses and ZIP codes; and other important data points about those who have died. This data can be used to fact-check reported deaths due to COVID-19 and identify gaps in existing fatality data relating to the pandemic.

The Examiners Project, started by former JSK Fellow Matt Kiefer and now led by Chicago-based investigative journalist Kyra Senese, began with support from the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University as part of the Covid Public Info project. It included contributions from team members, including JSK Fellow Garance Burke, as well as MuckRock and Outlier Media, and partner newsrooms around the country, including KQED.

Documenting COVID-19 has obtained public records from health departments and other local authorities in counties throughout the U.S. in recent months to gain insight into the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a repository of searchable documents related to the response to the virus. The project is now collaborating with Kiefer’s team to continue progress on the medical examiner project.

The Algorithms Project

The Algorithms Project, started by former Stanford JSK-HAI Fellow Garance Burke and now led by New York-based investigative journalist Georgia Gee, began with support from the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University as part of the Covid Public Info project. It included contributions from MuckRock’s Beryl Lipton and input from team members, MuckRock and Outlier Media.

The project aims to obtain information from state and federal agencies around the use of algorithms and other predictive tools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the project looks into the function of algorithms in policy decisions regarding unemployment; release from state and federal prisons and jails; and surveillance, such as thermal cameras and facial recognition. These records are maintained by federal and state governments but typically are not made public without an open records request.

Documenting COVID-19 continues to look into the use of algorithms amid the pandemic, exploring the extent of bias in AI medical technologies. The project aims to investigate whether predictive tools related to COVID-19 have had an impact on marginalized communities, such as data-driven decisions on testing locations.

Do you want to collaborate with us or contribute records you’ve obtained? Subscribe, follow us on Twitter and email us at You can also learn more about us here.


FOIA Request on FLight 370 Refused

bama’s NSA refuses FOIA request on Malaysia flight 370 on grounds of classified info

It is now one month 18 days since Malaysia Airlines flight 370, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board, disappeared.

Repeated searches in the south Indian Ocean 2,000 miles southwest from Perth, Australia have found nothing. Speculations abound as to what really happened to MH 370, from the plausible to the bizarre, including:

  • The plane actually landed in Pakistan.
  • The plane actually landed on the U.S. military base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
  • Muslims or Iran hijacked the plane.
  • The Israelis hijacked the plane, which (or a plane identical to MH 370) is now in the Tel Aviv airport, to be used in another fake 9-11 attack. (H/t FOTM’s josephbc69)
  • The U.S. military shot down the plane.
  • The Chinese shot down the plane.

All along, I’ve maintained that, given U.S. satellites and the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive surveillance capabilities, the Obama administration knows precisely what had happened to MH 370, but is not telling. Notice that at no time has the White House offered its radar and satellite tracking information to help in the search.

Now we have evidence that the NSA indeed knows but isn’t telling.

On March 24, 2014, the gutsy and indefatigable attorney Dr. Orly Taitz made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the NSA for any and all documents relating to missing Malaysian Flight MH 370.

This is the letter Dr. Taitz received in response (click image to enlarge):

NSA FOIA1Here’s the most important paragraph in the NSA’s letter:

We have determined that the fact of the existence or non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter in accordance with the Executive Order 13526, as set forth in Sub-paragraph (c) of Section 1.4. Thus your request is denied pursuant to the first exemption of the FOIA which provides that the FOIA does not apply to matters that are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept order in the interest of national defense or foreign relations and are, in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.

Taitz points out that “Typically when the government does not have any records, it would respond to FOIA request attesting that there are no records in question, however this is not what happened in the case at hand. NSA did not deny existence of the documents, but stated that it is classified.

Executive Order 13526 – Classified National Security Information was issued by Barack Obama on December 29, 2009. Here’s EO 13536′s Section 1.4, Sub-paragraph c:

Sec. 1.4.  Classification Categories.  Information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security in accordance with section 1.2 of this order, and it pertains to one or more of the following:

(c)  intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology;