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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October 24, 2013 2:34 PM

From Al Jazeera America: While much has been made of the government's current penchant for secrecy, few have noticed that this atmosphere now shrouds government history as well.

Working on a biography of a noted Washington journalist, I placed a routine Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2011 for her FBI file. The timing of my application seemed propitious. Two years earlier, President Barack Obama had signed an executive order to speed declassification of materials and had issued an encouraging FOIA memorandum.

Visit Al Jazeera America for more.

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October 22, 2013 11:39 AM

From Times-News: GRAHAM — An attorney representing the Alamance News has filed a motion in response to the U.S Department of Justice’s argument against providing documents covered by a joint confidentiality and protective order in its lawsuit against Sheriff Terry Johnson.

North Carolina Press Association attorney Amanda Martin representing Boney Publishers, which operates The Alamance News, a weekly newspaper in Graham, filed a motion on Oct. 16 stating, “The United States’ Response is long on words and rhetoric but short on authority, Indeed, the United States has offered no binding or even persuasive authority that this Court has the power to wholesale remove from the public eye essentially all documents that either were made or received by the defendant simply because they arguably have relevance to this case.

Visit Times-News 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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September 20, 2013 8:36 AM

From USA TodayThe Justice Department's internal ethics watchdog says it never investigated repeated complaints by federal judges that the government had misled them about the NSA's secret surveillance of Americans' phone calls and Internet communications.

Two judges on the court that oversees the spying programs separately rebuked federal officials in top-secret court orders for misrepresenting how the NSA was harvesting and analyzing communication records. In a sharply worded 2009 order, one of the judges, Reggie Walton, went so far as to suggest that he could hold national security officials in contempt or refer their conduct to outside investigators.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility routinely probes judges' allegations that the department's lawyers may have violated ethics rules that prohibit attorneys from misleading courts. Still, OPR said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by USA TODAY that it had no record of ever having investigated — or even being made aware of — the scathing and, at the time, classified, critiques from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court between 2009 and 2011.

Those opinions were sufficiently critical that OPR should have reviewed the situation, even if only to assure the department that its lawyers were not to blame, former OPR attorney Leslie Griffin said. "There's enough in the opinions that it should trigger some level of inquiry," she said.

Continue >>

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September 6, 2013 8:56 AM

From ABC News:  The Justice Department is declassifying portions of some secret court orders concerning the government's authority to seize records under the Patriot Act.

The department revealed its decision to declassify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions in a filing with the federal court in the Northern District of California Wednesday. The government says it will provide hundreds of pages of documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group that had filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.

The release of the records is in response to an order issued by a federal judge in California. In its filing, the Justice Department said it was "broadly construing" that order and is declassifying a larger set of documents than the ruling required.

The Justice Department said it would provide the document to the foundation by Tuesday.

Continue >>

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September 6, 2013 8:39 AM

From Jason Leopold at The Public Record:  Late Monday evening, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice to obtain a copy of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program.

The panel spent four years “reviewing” the CIA torture program, which cost taxpayers more than $40 million. The substance of the 6,000-page report and whether or not it will be declassified has been the subject of debate since the committee voted 9-6 last December to approve it. Last month, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, a member of the Senate Intelligence Commitee, placed a hold on Obama’s nominee, Stephen Preston, who was tapped by the president to be general counsel at the Defense Department. Preston is currently CIA’s general counsel. Udall took action, he said, because he wants Preston to answer questions about the Senate’s report on the CIA’s torture program.

“At issue,” according to a report in The Daily Beast, “is whether the report should be declassified and released to the public.”

[. . .]

FOIA does not apply to Congress. Still, I want to report on the Senate’s findings. So, two weeks ago, I filed a FOIA request with DOJ to obtain the agency’s copy of the Senate report. My FOIA sought expedited processing, noting that as of late July a Google search of “CIA senate torture report” resulted in 4.6 million hits on the search engine, underscoring widespread media interest in the document.

Continue >>

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August 27, 2013 10:28 AM

From TheHill.com:  The Justice Department is being forced to hand over an index of every document amassed in its criminal investigation of former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

The federal court decision will grant the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) watchdog group a broad list of what documents the DOJ possesses and the reasons why Justice is arguing to withhold them from the public.

CREW first began pressing for the release of the investigatory materials in late 2010 when it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after Ensign claimed that the DOJ had completed its investigation of him.

Continue . . .

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August 23, 2013 10:47 AM

From Miami Herald:  IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Department of Justice obtained temporary legal relief Tuesday to block the release of emails to and from an Iowa sheriff who serves on a federal board charged with building a high-speed broadband network for emergency responders.

Department lawyers requested an injunction in federal court in Des Moines to prevent Iowa's Story County from releasing Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald's emails to the news outlet Politico on Tuesday. In a batch of court filings, they argued the release could "seriously impede" plans for a single, interoperable network designed to resolve the communications problems that hampered responses to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks and other disasters.

Fitzgerald was appointed last year to serve on the board of FirstNet, which was created by Congress to develop and deploy the network and is housed in the Department of Commerce. ...

Politico asked Story County to release emails related to FirstNet that Fitzgerald sent and received through his county email.

U.S. District Judge James Gritzner approved a temporary restraining order Tuesday afternoon that blocks the records' release for 14 days.

Get the rest >>

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August 20, 2013 8:43 AM

From Jason Leopold at Public Record:  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicated that the FBI has likely located responsive records pertaining to investigative journalist Michael Hastings, who died in a tragic car accident in Los Angeles in June, and the agency expects to finish processing the records in about three weeks.

DOJ revealed the details in a court filing Tuesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed with Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in FOIA research revolving around the policing of dissent. Shapiro and I both filed FOIA requests with the FBI after Hastings’s death for any records the agency may have on the reporter. When the FBI failed to respond our records requests within the 20 business day timeframe as required by law and Shapiro’s request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days we sued.

Get the rest here.

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August 16, 2013 8:57 AM

From Watchdog.org:  The most recent congressional threat to the free press in the United States comes from California Democrat  U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

In a proposed amendment to a media shield law being considered by Congress, Feinstein writes that only paid journalists should be given protections from prosecution for what they say or write.  The language in her proposal is raising concerns from First Amendment advocates because it seems to leave out bloggers and other nontraditional forms of journalism that have proliferated in recent years thanks to the Internet.

“It rubs me the wrong way that the government thinks it should be in the business of determining who should be considered a journalist,” said Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the Missouri School of Journalism.

But on the other hand, Bunting said, there is a great need for federal shield law in light of recent attempts by the U.S. Justice Department to force journalists to give up information about confidential sources.

Visit Watchdog.org for the rest.

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July 25, 2013 1:41 PM

From Slate.com:  In a new Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in California earlier this month, the DoJ is accused of illegally withholding a trove of records related to a clandestine tool known as the “Stingray.” The Stingray is a portable transceiver that sends out a signal that tricks all cellphones within a targeted area into hopping onto a fake network. The spy device, sometimes also described as an “IMSI catcher” or a “digital analyzer,” is used by law enforcement agencies to covertly track down suspects. The FBI claims that it uses the device only to monitor the location of individuals and not to eavesdrop on text messages and phone calls. However, every time Stingrays are used, they inadvertently collect identifying data from all phones within a targeted radius—including those belonging to innocent bystanders—which is why civil liberties groups allege that they disproportionally violate privacy.

Following the leak of NSA documents showing the extent of the agency’s surveillance programs, the ACLU’s Northern California branch filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get the DoJ to turn over information about the use of the “highly intrusive and indiscriminate” Stingray tool. In the complaint, the ACLU argues that concern prompted by the NSA stories illustrates that there is a “great urgency to inform the public about any and all forms of dragnet electronic surveillance by the government.” The group says that it filed a FOIA request for the Stingray documents back in April, but has not yet received any documents in response. It further accuses the DoJ of the “illegal withholding of government documents” and is asking that the court order the “prompt” release the files and declare the non-disclosure unlawful.

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July 24, 2013 11:58 AM

From The Blog of Legal Times:  A federal trial judge in Washington [July 23] urged the government to continue reviewing thousands of pages of documents that could be released in a public records lawsuit seeking information from the Secret Service about the Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

The high-profile suit hit a snag this month when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the digital library JSTOR filed requests to intervene to have a say in the scope of any information that is released to the public.

[...]

Swartz committed suicide in January as computer crimes charges were pending against him in Boston federal district court. Prosecutors allege Swartz illegally downloaded millions of articles from JSTOR via MIT computers. Some critics have charged the prosecution lacked merit and that the potential punishment was too harsh.

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