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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February 26, 2015 1:28 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union has released records it had obtained via Freedom of Information requests from police agencies across the state of Florida, detailing widespread law enforcement use of surveillance technology kept secret not only from ordinary American citizens, but from judges and the court system, too.

This secrecy is allegedly justified in the name of “national security” although, as the ACLU notes in the records it released yesterday, a detailed list of over 250 investigations from just one city's police department showed not a single case related to national security.

And although yesterday's ACLU investigation only looked at Florida, state and local law enforcement agencies in at least 20 states and Washington D.C. use this secret surveillance technology. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:13 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and a coalition of labor unions plan to drop a lawsuit over the temporary closure of the state Capitol in December 2012 while the Legislature took initial votes on Michigan’s right-to-work law.

The plaintiffs have decided not to appeal Court of Claims Judge Deborah Servitto’s recent ruling that there was nothing illegal about the Michigan State Police’s decision to lock the doors to the Capitol during debate on the controversial bills, said Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan.

Servitto also ruled that the Legislature did not violate the Open Meetings Act when 36 Republican legislative aides were directed to sit in the 175-seat House gallery during debate on the bills, taking away potential seats from members of the public. Continue>>>
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ACLU, FOIA lawsuit, Michigan
February 12, 2015 2:39 PM

Three Southern California civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday against two federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection, claiming they are wrongly withholding information that should be publicly available.

They are requesting information about a Border Patrol practice known as roving patrols, in which agents conduct searches of people and vehicles away from the border and away from checkpoints in the country’s interior.

The suing organizations are the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the University of California Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:38 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut, and the Service Women’s Action Network filed a lawsuit today against the Department of Defense for failing to release records under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how three military academies maintain policies that result in an underrepresentation of women in the student population.

The lawsuit aims to capture information about the admissions and recruitment policies at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), and the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, with the ultimate goal of ending the gender disparities and discrimination that women who aspire to become military officers face. The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Connecticut represent the plaintiffs.

DOD has a long history of denying women opportunities to serve equally and in leadership roles. Cadets and midshipmen attend the military service academies tuition-free, graduate with a bachelor of science degree with a commission as a second lieutenant, and must serve a minimum of five years on active duty. Yet, the percentage of women at West Point has remained between 14 percent and 17 percent for over 25 years, women are less than a quarter of the Brigade of Midshipmen at USNA, and the USAFA has limited its enrollment of women cadets to at or below 23 percent since 1976, despite commissioning its graduates into a service in which over 99 percent of career fields have been open to women for two decades. Continue>>>
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January 29, 2015 11:31 AM

The Drug Enforcement Administration has initiated a massive national license plate reader program with major civil liberties concerns but disclosed very few details, according to new DEA documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act.

The DEA is currently operating a National License Plate Recognition initiative that connects DEA license plate readers with those of other law enforcement agencies around the country. A Washington Post headline proclaimed in February 2014 that the Department of Homeland Security had cancelled its “national license-plate tracking plan,” but all that was ended was one Immigrations and Customs Enforcement solicitation for proposals. In fact, a government-run national license plate tracking program already exists, housed within the DEA. (That’s in addition to the corporate license plate tracking database run by Vigilant Solutions, holding billions of records about our movements.)

Since its inception in 2008, the DEA has provided limited information to the public on the program’s goals, capabilities and policies. Information has trickled out over the years, in testimony here or there. But far too little is still known about this program. Continue>>>
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December 30, 2014 11:18 AM

The National Security Agency has a lot to keep track of – all those electronic communications and other signals, mostly innocuous but some of which are critical to national security, collectively known as “signals intelligence” or SIGINT.

In the post-9/11 world of terrorist threats, unconventional war, and rapidly advancing technology, sorting through and making sense of all that SIGINT becomes increasingly critical.

So does protecting the civil liberties of individual Americans, whose private and personal information – from cell phone records to email communication – may get vacuumed up (or specifically targeted) in the NSA’s massive electronic spying efforts. Continue>>>
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ACLU, eavesdropping, NSA
November 21, 2014 11:22 AM

The ACLU is filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today for information about a newly revealed Marshals Service program that uses aircraft to suck up location data from tens of thousands of people’s cell phones at a time.

The U.S. Marshals Service program, exposed last week by the Wall Street Journal, involves Cessna planes equipped with “cell site simulators” flying from at least five airports around the country. Cell site simulators, also called IMSI catchers, impersonate a wireless service provider’s cell tower, prompting cell phones and other wireless devices to communicate with them instead of the nearest tower. In doing do so, the simulators can learn all sorts of information that facilitates accurate location tracking, including the electronic serial numbers and other information about the phone and the direction and strength of the phone’s signal.

The government apparently calls cell site simulators deployed on airplanes “DRT boxes” or “dirtboxes”, after their manufacturer, Digital Receiver Technology, Inc. (DRT). (Other cell site simulator models, produced by Harris Corporation, are the “Stingray," “Triggerfish,” “Kingfish,” and “Hailstorm”). Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:47 AM

Well before Edward Snowden leaked documents about the National Security Administration's massive domestic-surveillance program, the American Civil Liberties Union sought clues through the Freedom of Information Act about how government interpreted its spying powers.

The ACLU's lawsuit, filed three years ago, demanded that the government produce documents describing its interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act. The statute empowers the government to cull "any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

Snowden eliminated much of the mystery surrounding what this meant last year with unprecedented leaks of top-secret documents, starting with an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that forced Verizon to give the government its customers' telephone metadata. Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 1:53 PM
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) has issued a plea to the US government to open records about the drugs used in executions in the state of Pennsylvania.
 
"The ACLU of Pennsylvania, on behalf of four newspapers, including the Guardian, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia City Paper, has asked a federal judge to unseal court records that contain information about the source of the drugs used for lethal injections in Pennsylvania", a statement published on the union's website Thursday said, adding, "The first execution in 15 years in the commonwealth could occur as soon as September 22. The newspapers seeking this information argue that keeping that information under seal violates their First Amendment rights."
 
The ACLU stated that because the Federal Drug Administration-approved version of the starting drug for execution, pentobarbital, is not sold to correction departments, states can only purchase them from a compounding pharmacy through a special order. But since there is less control exercised over compounding pharmacies than on pharmaceutical companies, the ACLU doubts the substances that the compounded drugs contain. Continue>>>
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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."

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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.

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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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