FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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May 30, 2014 7:53 AM

ACLU of Virginia lawyers representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) presented arguments today in their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the City of Norfolk. The ACLU of Virginia and PETA argued that, according to Virginia Law, the City must keep and make available to the public text messages of City officials conducting City business.

The lawsuit arises from several FOIA requests for text messages that PETA made to the City. In response to the requests, the City told PETA that it does not save text messages generated by City officials. The ACLU of Virginia and PETA argue that Virginia law (FOIA and the Virginia Public Records Act) requires the records to be preserved and made available upon request. The City asked the court to dismiss the case.

“As government officials increasingly rely on text messages to conduct public business, it is essential to make sure that they are not used to hide the government’s work from public view,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Public records in any form must be made available so that voters can hold officials accountable for their actions.” Continue>>>
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December 6, 2013 1:03 PM

Press release from ACLU: SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Popular Democracy today filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to compel the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to provide details about the agency's relationship with the financial industry and its efforts to block municipalities from using eminent domain to prevent foreclosures.

Banks have foreclosed on millions of homes, and vast numbers of homeowners remain at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure because their mortgages are "underwater," meaning homeowners owe more than their properties are now worth. Communities with large African-American and Latino populations such as Richmond, Calif., and Irvington, N.J., have been particularly hard hit.

"For years, communities of color across the nation were targeted by banks peddling subprime toxic mortgages, greatly contributing to the current foreclosure crisis," said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "Now communities are responding by considering novel approaches to help save their neighborhoods. Municipalities should be able to consider all of their options."

[...]

The complaint, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, et al. v. Federal Housing Finance Agency, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It was brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of New Jersey, and the Center for Popular Democracy on behalf of a number of community groups across the country.

Visit ACLU for more.

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December 3, 2013 1:41 PM

From Courthouse News Service: WASHINGTON (CN) - The once-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has mishandled demands to reveal the government's attempted justifications of its program of collecting the call and email data of Americans, a media coalition said.

Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press filed the amicus brief with the FISC, just before Thanksgiving last week, alongside Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Courthouse News Service and 21 other media organizations.

The brief takes aim at a Sept. 13 ruling in which the FISC found that the ACLU and its D.C.-based Nation's Capital chapter alone had standing to seek the release of precedential FISC opinions that underlie the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

This decision denied standing to the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIAC) at Yale Law School based on the finding that only those entities that had previously discussed the scope of Section 215 of the Patriot Act can witness the court's proceedings.

[...]

Joining the RCFP as amici are the Bay Area News Group; Belo Corp; Bloomberg; Courthouse News Service; E.W. Scripps Co.; First Amendment Coalition; Gannett Co.; Hearst Corp.; Investigative Reporters and Editors; Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; The McClatchy Co.; Media Consortium; The National Press Club; National Press Photographers Association; National Public Radio; The New York Times Co.; The New Yorker; North Jersey Media Group Inc.; Online News Association; Politico LLC; Radio Television Digital News Association; The Seattle Times Co.; and The Washington Post.

Visit Courthouse News Service for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:41 PM

From NJ.com: In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revised its operational guidelines known as the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Under the new marching orders, the document allowed agents to engage in limited racial and ethnic profiling when assessing criminal and terroristic threats.

The new guidelines, though, put the American Civil Liberties Union on alert. The group feared the revised guidelines would encourage FBI agents to unlawfully racially profile people, and so it ultimately launched a series of coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests aimed at gathering FBI records on its use of ethnic and racial data.

Visit NJ.com for more.

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October 18, 2013 11:12 AM

From The Daily Caller: The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Department of Justice in regards to whether a criminal suspect was placed under NSA surveillance.

On Thursday, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the U.S. government policy for notifying criminal defendants that they are being monitored by the government.

Visit The Daily Caller for more.

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October 8, 2013 7:56 AM

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is suing the state corrections department, alleging that it ignored the group’s request to view records about the state’s execution drug.

In the lawsuit filed Friday in circuit court in Cole County, the group said it submitted a written request on Aug. 26 for records concerning the state’s supply of the drug propofol, which the state plans to use for executions on Oct. 23 and Nov. 20.

The department responded two days later to say it would take three weeks to respond. But more than five weeks later the records had not been provided, and the department did not return phone messages on Monday and Wednesday this week, the lawsuit said.

Visit St. Louis Post-Dispatch for more.

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September 11, 2013 10:41 AM

From ACLU: The ACLU and the ACLU of New Jersey are in federal appeals court today in a second challenge to FBI claims of secrecy concerning its troubling nationwide racial and ethnic mapping program. The argument comes in a lawsuit filed in 2011, after the FBI refused to adequately respond to our Freedom of Information Act request for records about which American communities it's spying on in New Jersey. We recently argued in federal appeals court in a parallel lawsuit for FBI records about the same surveillance program in Michigan.

Once again, we are pushing back against FBI claims of secrecy over a program we exposed as being used to spy on entire racial and ethnic groups based on nothing more than crude stereotypes. Still, in New Jersey (as in Michigan), the FBI seeks to hide its use of U.S. census data and other public source information that would tell us which communities it is profiling and how many are impacted. And it is again asking a court to approve a one-sided, secret judicial process to decide whether the FBI can keep information secret under FOIA. These positions undercut the FOIA, which Congress passed to promote government transparency and accountability, and the public right of access that is central to our judicial system and democracy.

Visit ACLU for more.

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July 25, 2013 10:05 AM

From MLive.com:  Improving local and state government transparency was the driving focus of a Wednesday discussion sponsored by a well-known conservative think tank.

In an effort to address issues with government transparency in Michigan, particularly within the constrains of the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy hosted a public meeting at Northwood University Wednesday, July 24, as part of its "Open Government Initiative."

The discussion panel included comments from Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the ACLU of Michigan; Robin Luce Herrmann, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association; Kathy Barks Hoffman, former Associated Press reporter and board member of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government; and Michael J. Reitz, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center.

All of the panelists spoke about difficult situations obtaining information from public bodies throughout the state, including timeliness of responses, high costs of obtaining the information from public bodies or suspecting violations of the Open Meetings Act from school boards or city councils.

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Also see:  Town halls help demystify open records laws and hole government accountable and Should government be more transparent?

 

June 28, 2013 12:47 PM

A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

 

Acting ND University System chancellor says NDSU president emails are not gone for good

BISMARCK, North Dakota — More than 45,000 emails reportedly deleted from the email account of North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani at the time of a state open records request are not gone for good, the interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System says. ... The emails are the subject of a state investigation into whether NDSU violated open records laws by deleting emails from Bresciani's inbox that might have been subject to a legislative public records request. The request came during months of controversy over the alleged overbearing leadership style of then-Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, whose contract has since been bought out by the state Board of Higher Education.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

ACLU files appeal in request for city SWAT records

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an appeal in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court seeking records from the Pittsburgh police department. According to the filing, the ACLU submitted a request under the state Right to Know Law seeking records from the city's SWAT team and on acquisition of "cutting-edge weapons technology."

Visit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the rest.

Jacksonville expects fast end to Sunshine lawsuit, general counsel says

A Times-Union lawsuit that argues Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown broke the state’s Sunshine Law could be resolved by late July or August, the city’s top lawyer told a City Council committee Thursday. ... The suit says the pension proposal was the result of illegal secret negotiations. Times-Union Editor Frank Denton filed the suit because state law requires Sunshine cases to be brought by a Florida resident.

Visit The Florida Times-Union for the rest.

Northampton Community College locks down email addresses after records ruling

Northampton Community College will take steps to keep its students' email addresses private after an open records decision required administrators to provide the information to a Bucks County activist. The idea their email addresses could be released for commercial or political purposes outraged some students, who wrote to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records in an effort to influence its decision, said Helene Whitaker, the school's vice president for administrative affairs.

Visit The Morning Call for the rest.

Governor says he supports open records, meetings, but does not want state bearing the costs

SACRAMENTO, California — Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he is committed to keeping government transparent but wants to do so without costing the state money. Brown made his first public comments about the California Public Records Act after lawmakers backtracked on a bill that would have made it optional, instead of mandatory, for local governments to comply with document requests.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Judge orders records in Lloyd case to be kept from public

NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. — A day after his co-counsel, Michael Fee, issued an email rant at the media for "a flood of rumors, misinformation and false reports," defense attorney Jamie Sultan made a 15-minute visit to their client's home Tuesday, driving away without a word to the two dozen reporters camped outside the home of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Meanwhile, five miles away at the Attleboro District Courthouse, clerk magistrate Mark E. Sturdy issued a statement saying that all records handled by his office that relate to the investigation into the homicide of Odin Lloyd have been impounded by court order.

Visit USA Today for the rest.

June 14, 2013 9:29 AM

From Twin Cities Daily Planet:  Since its earliest days, the Obama administration has been circumspect about officially confirming the existence of its drone-centric counter-terrorism operations. Despite extensive press coverage of the subject (as well as apparently sanctioned leaks and carefully crafted public statements) the administration avoided officially acknowledging its drone program for over four years.

In fact, while Attorney General Holder and other officials made couched references to such an operation, the administration fought off multiple FOIA requests for legal opinions related to the program in federal court. Such requests came from the ACLU, the New York Times, PRM, and the California-based First Amendment Coalition (FAC).

The California First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds

 

June 12, 2013 1:41 PM

From U-T San Diego:  SAN DIEGO — The American Civil Liberties Union and local news organizations, including U-T San Diego, asked a federal judge Tuesday to reject a request to seal documents in a wrongful-death suit that alleges an unauthorized immigrant died after being beaten and shot with a Taser by Border Patrol agents.

The government and attorneys for the agents asked the judge last month to seal future filings in the case to protect agents and customs officers who were involved in the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, 42. The government also said it was trying to avoid revealing any policies and procedures of Customs and Border Protection.

 

May 23, 2013 2:26 PM

From eNews Park Forest:  WASHINGTON--(ENEWSPF)--May 23 - Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Congress confirming that the government has killed four Americans since 2010 in strikes overseas, and claiming that the government’s actions were justified.

“This letter is evidence that Congress has a crucial oversight role, and that the executive branch is accountable to Congress and the American people. We applaud Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy for his insistence that the veil of secrecy be lifted on the government's killing program,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office.

 

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