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

May 20, 2015 12:51 PM

Government agencies could face a new authority for improperly withholding public records in the face of a Freedom of Information Act request.

But at the same time, government agencies could also strike back at people who make overly burdensome requests for documents.  Continue>>>

May 20, 2015 10:24 AM
During former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, her political staff personally reviewed and negotiated the release of public records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — and in some cases blocked documents' release, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A Journal investigation found there existed a culture of "delay and inefficiency" at the State Department.
Clinton’s disclosure of public records has made headlines since the revelation earlier this year that as secretary of state she exclusively used a private account and server housed in her New York home to conduct State Department business. Continue>>>
May 8, 2015 12:47 PM

Ever since his early days on the police force in Chesapeake, Va., Kelvin Wright has been intrigued by the idea of using cameras to fight crime. As a traffic officer in the late 1980s, he was the first cop in the department to test them on car dashboards. Chesapeake police then experimented with body-worn cameras as long ago as the late 1990s, but the technology proved impractical. By 2009, Wright was the chief. He decided to equip 90 of Chesapeake’s officers with newer-model body cameras. At the time, such recording devices were in use only in a select handful of police departments around the country.

That is quickly changing. Sparked mostly by the riots following police killings last year in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. -- and, more recently, by the shooting death of an unarmed black man in North Charleston, S.C. -- there’s been a national surge of interest in outfitting officers with body-worn cameras. Just two years ago, TASER International, a leading vendor of the devices, only supplied cameras to Chesapeake and a few hundred other agencies. Now the company reports more than 2,500 law enforcement agencies use more than 30,000 of its cameras nationwide. One national expert recently told The Wall Street Journal he estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 police departments, out of about 18,000 nationwide, use body cameras. No state mandates body-worn devices yet, but according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in 29 states had introduced various body camera bills as of March.

Many of the cities interested in equipping officers with body cameras have reached out to Chesapeake to see how the program has worked there. Since the unrest of Ferguson, Wright says his department has received on average a call a week about the cameras from other cities. The New York City Police Department was one of the callers. The District of Columbia Police Department sent a contingent down to Chesapeake last year to visit. Wright thinks it’s not a matter of if but when most police departments will deploy body-worn cameras of their own. “Across this country,” Wright says, “officers will wear these very much as they do their sidearm.” Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 12:22 PM

No one knows for sure whether Walter Scott was the third 2015 fatality from a police shooting or the 20th. And we should know.

But the United States has no database for police shootings, so we can’t find out .

If Mr. Scott’s shocking death is to spur a much-needed national conversation about policing, racial profiling and the use of deadly force, the big-picture number is a key piece of information. Continue>>>

April 7, 2015 1:59 PM

Federal district judges in Washington are the gatekeepers of government records in high demand. The CIA torture report. Prosecution memos about multibillion-dollar deals with big banks. And, now, Hillary Clinton's emails.

More lawsuits are filed in Washington over access to federal records than in any district court in the country. Nearly half of the 462 cases filed in 2014 under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were brought in Washington, according to a review of court filings by The National Law Journal. [See Chart.]

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, with its long history as the major forum for public-records disputes, helps shape the resolution of cases in other courts, lawyers who focus on FOIA said. Rulings by Washington judges influence — even if they don't legally bind — courts around the country. Continue>>>

April 3, 2015 2:15 PM

A notice the Obama administration placed in the Federal Register earlier this month seemed to confirm once and for all what many transparency advocates have treated as a given for years: The White House is beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

Well, not so fast.

The formal notice, awkwardly made public as many transparency advocates were celebrating Sunshine Week, officially withdrew long-dormant regulations that once created procedures for FOIA requests to part of the White House known as the Office of Administration. The George W. Bush White House actually stopped processing such requests about a decade ago. (They sat on one of mine for several years before sending a short letter saying they had no intention of fulfilling it.) Continue>>>

March 29, 2015 10:49 PM

A South Carolina State University board committee's recent meeting to approve an organizational structure for the institution was illegal, says Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association.

The university was nearing the March 13 deadline to hand in documents to the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges and an approved organizational structure was part of the package required by the accrediting agency.

Trustees failed to vote on it at a meeting March 10. Instead, they gave authority to the board's executive committee to tentatively approve the document. Continue>>>

March 23, 2015 10:47 AM

Some recent examples of New York journalists facing challenges to efforts to shine light on the working of local government:


The newspaper is involved in two lawsuits challenging authorities' denial of requests for information under the state Freedom of Information Law. Continue>>>

March 20, 2015 9:32 AM

A Senate committee on Thursday discussed but took no action on a bill that would largely exempt former state employees’ records from the state Freedom of Information Act.

Senate Bill 892 by Rep. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, would make all information about a state employee exempt from the FOI law 60 days after the person leaves office, except for the employee’s name; agency or department of employment; position or rank; dates of service; awards, decorations or commendations; and the city or town of his or her last known address.

Cooper said the bill would protect former state employees’ privacy. Some committee members expressed reservations about the measure. Continue>>>

March 19, 2015 11:21 PM

Simpsonville City Council received an opinion from the state Attorney General's office that a quorum was present when council members and other city officials toured the historic Simpsonville Grammar School last fall, therefore it may have violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Assistant Attorney General Anne Marie Crosswell's letter stated, "While our office is not a fact-finding entity, based on the information you have provided, we believe a court would likely find that the walk-through would classify as a meeting subject to the requirements of the FOIA."

The request for an opinion was proposed at the October meeting of City Council by councilman Matthew Gooch and seconded by George Curtis, both of whom said they were unaware of a meeting beforehand. The motion carried unanimously. Continue>>>

March 17, 2015 1:03 PM

A top freedom-of-information expert isn’t buying Hillary Clinton’s explanation of why she set up her own email system to conduct official State Department business, calling it “laughable.”

Daniel Metcalfe, who advised White House administrations on interpreting the Freedom of Information Act from 1981 to 2007, told The Canadian Press that the former secretary of state acted “contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law.”

“There is no doubt that the scheme she established was a blatant circumvention of the Freedom of Information Act, atop the Federal Records Act,” he said, reviewing a transcript of Clinton’s remarks during her Tuesday news conference. Clinton told reporters she deleted approximately 30,000 personal emails from her private account that she also used as secretary of state. Continue>>>

March 13, 2015 11:27 AM

Newspapers were once the dominant force in dislodging documents and other records from reluctant federal government agencies, but a new crop of media players, advocacy groups and corporate interests now drive the release of information.

The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 was first envisioned as a tool for traditional media to seek documents, data and information they deemed important to public interest. It also was meant to allow ordinary Americans ( ) to seek information from the federal government about themselves.

Nearly a half-century later, news organizations continue to paper federal agencies with written and electronic requests for records and other information under FOIA, a review of agency logs shows, though they are cash strapped and less likely to press their claims in court. Continue>>>

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