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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July 3, 2014 10:36 PM

The Fort Smith city clerk and four members of the city board of directors are accused of violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Sebastian County Circuit Court.

City Clerk Sherri Gard is accused of individually polling Directors Keith Lau, George Catsavis and Kevin Settle after Ward 3 Director Mike Lorenz contacted her to remove items from the June 17 and July 1 directors’ meeting agendas, in the complaint.

On June 3, At-Large Director Philip Merry requested a discussion seeking a three-year audit of the city’s legal contract with the law firm Daily & Woods be placed on agenda for the directors’ June 10 study session. At-Large Director Pam Weber seconded the move, and the item was placed on the agenda. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 9:50 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the Delaware Court of Chancery's appeal of a federal appellate court ruling declaring its confidential arbitration program unconstitutional. The Supreme Court's refusal to grant certiorari ends the Chancery Court's arbitration program after three years of litigation and two federal court decisions.

In an order issued Monday, the high court said it would not grant certiorari in Delaware Coalition for Open Government v. Strine, but did not provide more information.

The Supreme Court's decision means that an October 2013 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit declaring that the arbitration program violated the public's right to access civil trials under the First Amendment will stand. 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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September 5, 2013 12:10 PM

From Electronic Frontier Foundation: In a major victory in one of EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, the Justice Department conceded yesterday that it will release hundreds of documents, including FISA court opinions, related to the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law the NSA has relied upon for years to mass collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans.

In a court filing, the Justice Department, responding to a judge’s order, said that they would make public a host of material that will “total hundreds of pages” by next week, including: [O]rders and opinions of the FISC issued from January 1, 2004, to June 6, 2011, that contain a significant legal interpretation of the government’s authority or use of its authority under Section 215; and responsive “significant documents, procedures, or legal analyses incorporated into FISC opinions or orders and treated as binding by the Department of Justice or the National Security Agency.”

While the government finally released a white paper detailing its expansive (and unconstitutional) interpretation of Section 215 last month, more important FISA court opinions adopting at least part of that interpretation have remained secret. The results of EFF’s FOIA lawsuit will finally lift the veil on the dubious legal underpinnings of NSA’s domestic phone surveillance program.

Continue >>

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August 14, 2013 3:36 PM

From News-Gazette.com:  An Illinois appellate court has sided with The News-Gazette and ruled that the city of Champaign turn over to reporter Patrick Wade copies of electronic communications sent and received by city council members during council meetings and study sessions in May, June and July 2011.

But the same three-member court overturned a ruling by Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt that The News-Gazette's attorney was entitled to $7,500 in attorney fees and costs from the city.

[...]

Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins said Wednesday the city would make a decision within the next two weeks whether to appeal the ruling.

Get the rest here.

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July 9, 2013 12:43 PM

From Wired:  A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Friday ordered the government to promptly start releasing thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz, following months of roadblocks and delays.

“Defendant shall promptly release to Plaintiff all responsive documents that it has gathered thus far and shall continue to produce additional responsive documents that it locates on a rolling basis,” wrote U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

The order was issued in my ongoing FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security – the Secret Service’s parent agency.

It was Secret Service agents who, in 2011, investigated Swartz’ bulk downloads from the JSTOR academic database, leading to the computer hacking and wire fraud case that loomed over Swartz at the time he committed suicide in January.

 

April 25, 2013 8:48 AM

From SOA Watch:

United States District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton from the Northern District of California ordered the Pentagon to release the names of who trains and teaches at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), a U.S. military training school for Latin American soldiers that has been connected to torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas. Human rights activists had taken the U.S. government to court over its refusal to release the information, and won. You can read a PDF of the court ruling at http://soaw.org/judgment.pdf
 
SOA Watch compiled the names, course, rank, country of origin, and dates attended for every soldier and instructor at the SOA/ WHINSEC from 1946 to 2003. After researchers exposed many cases of known human rights abusers attending the WHINSEC (despite claims that the "new" school was committed to human rights), and shared this research with Congressional decision-makers, the Department of Defense (DOD) refused to disclose any future information about students or teachers at the WHINSEC. The human rights community and the U.S. Congress did not agree with the decision. In 2008 and 2009, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill demanding that the DOD release this information. 

 

April 9, 2013 3:37 PM

From PCWorld:

A privacy watchdog has filed a lawsuit contending the Federal Bureau of Investigation has failed to provide requested technical information about a biometric identification database expected to be the largest in the world.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, alleges the FBI failed to disclose documents after it filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in September 2012.

EPIC sought information on the FBI’s “Next Generation Identification” program, which will amass biometric information on mostly U.S. citizens from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including palm prints and iris scans. New York City’s police department began collecting iris scans in 2010 of people who were arrested.

 

February 8, 2013 7:32 AM

From Washington Post:

WASHINGTON — A Tennessee newspaper and the federal government said they have agreed in principle to settle the paper’s lawsuit seeking documents about civil rights-era photographer Ernest Withers’ work as an informant for the FBI.

In a court filing late Wednesday night, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis and the FBI said they were in the process of finalizing and executing a settlement agreement. To allow time to do so, they asked the court to suspend deadlines in the case until March 8. No details of the settlement were included in the filing.

[...]

In 2010, The Commercial Appeal’s publisher, Memphis Publishing Co., and one of its reporters, Marc Perrusquia, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI. Last year, under a court order, the FBI released 348 pages that were heavily redacted in places. In a court filing, the paper called the release insufficient.

 

November 14, 2012 9:37 AM

From The Blog of Legal Times:

A death row inmate is suing the U.S. Justice Department with the hope of acquiring documents that he claims will help prove his innocence in a shooting that left a police officer and two others dead in 1995 in New Orleans.
 
Lawyers for the inmate, Rogers Lacaze, contend in the lawsuit the federal government has background information about the actual accomplice in the shooting. The Justice Department, according to the suit in Washington federal district court, will neither confirm nor deny the existence of any FBI records.
 
A team from the law firm Miller & Chevalier, on behalf of the lawyer who represents Lacaze, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act on November 8. The complaint alleges the public value of the documents—which Lacaze's attorneys said could help exonerate him—outweigh any privacy interest in the information.

October 23, 2012 12:31 PM

From Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC):

Syracuse, NY, October 23 — The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) challenging a ruling by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that its master repository of investigations and operations information is off-limits to the public.

 
TRAC's request specifically included complete records about "the dates and results" of every internal inspection made about the workings of the hundreds of detention facilities that the government maintains all over the country. The thousands of individuals held in these facilities — some for many months — have not been charged with a crime but are held as a result of alleged administrative violations of the immigration law.
 
TRAC is represented in this action — filed in Washington on Monday — by the Public Citizen Litigation Group.
 
The material sought by TRAC — in a proceeding that began at the administrative level in January 2010 — is stored in the Enforcement Integrated Database (EID), a system that is owned and operated by ICE. The EID records and maintains information related to the investigations and operations of ICE as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and that agency's Office of Field Operations.
 
TRAC, a part of Syracuse University, has been using the FOIA for more than two decades in a largely successful effort to obtain comprehensive data about how the government enforces the law, collects taxes and litigates cases — including specific information about the sentences imposed by individual federal judges (see http://trac.syr.edu).
 
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