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 7, 2015 11:34 AM

The FBI rightfully withheld documents about two terror suspects because they were exempt from disclosure, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Kenneth Dillon filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI in 2011, seeking records about the August 2011 detention and arrest of terrorism conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Dillon later narrowed his request for records about Moussaoui referencing cropdusting or biological or chemical terrorism.

He also sought records about the detention of al-Qaida operative Abderraouf Jdey, the ruling states. Continue>>>
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May 6, 2015 1:05 PM

Oral arguments on the Project Jackson case were presented Tuesday before the S.C. Supreme Court.

The case of Steve Donohue v. the City of North Augusta, Mayor Lark Jones and the North Augusta City Council went before the state’s highest court with the issues of proving blight in a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district, and Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, violations coming under question from the five Supreme Court Justices.

Belton Ziegler, lead attorney for the City of North Augusta, said the Supreme Court is taking the Freedom of Information Act cases in order to clear up what the act means. Continue>>>

May 5, 2015 12:46 PM

A secret, secondary email address used by Delaware Governor Jack Markell has some lawmakers crying foul.

Over the course of more than six years in office, Delaware Governor Jack Markell has maintained two public email addresses: Jack.Markell@state.de.us and Governor.Markell@state.de.us. But it's a third, secret email that has caused raised eyebrows in Dover in recent weeks.

That email address does not include the Markell's name or title. Instead, it bears the name of country music legend Alan Jackson: Alan.Jackson@state.de.us. Alan is Markell's middle name. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2015 11:40 AM

In a groundbreaking victory for open-government advocates, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered the state Senate and its leaders to turn over the appointment calendars and other records of two former state senators.

In a sweeping decision, Judge Michael Kenny tentatively ruled that the appointment books, meeting schedules and calendars of former Democratic Sens. Leland Yee and Ron Calderon requested by two news organizations are public records.

The Los Angeles News Group and its sister news organization the Bay Area News Group sued the state Senate last year over its refusal to release portions of the appointment calendars of the senators. Continue>>>

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May 4, 2015 11:08 AM

A $403,000 resignation agreement between former Pasadena City College President Mark Rocha and the board of trustees was voided Wednesday when a Los Angeles Superior Court judged ruled the board broke open government laws while discussing the deal in closed session.

Rocha stated he resigned for “personal reasons” when he left with 18 months of severance in August, but court filings revealed the sudden resignation and payout stemmed from Rocha threatening to sue the board because of negative comments a board member made about him to the media.

The college never disclosed Rocha’s threatened litigation or its discussions about a settlement on its closed session agendas, despite open government laws requiring them to provide a description of the “anticipated litigation,” according to Judge Joanne O’Donnell’s ruling. They also never disclosed that the meetings were related to Rocha’s employment. Continue>>>
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May 1, 2015 11:44 AM

Loudoun's Circuit Court declared Loudoun schools not in violation of Virginia's Freedom of Information Act on April 29.

Loudoun's School Board and school and IT staff were called to court last week when Lansdowne parent, Brian Davison, filed a Writ of Mandamus claiming Loudoun County Public Schools deliberately withheld information from the public and failed to fulfill multiple of his FOIA requests within the five day period mandated by law.

Davison has made more than 60 FOIA requests related to his belief that certain student test scores called Student Growth Percentile data should be released to the public, an ongoing lawsuit he has filed with the Virginia Department of Education in which the local School Board has intervened. Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:14 AM

The Obama administration on Saturday unveiled a 6-year-old report examining a once-secret program to collect information on Americans’ calls and e-mails, as debate gears up over the coming expiration of a Bush-era surveillance law.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the redacted report following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the New York Times. The basics of the National Security Agency program had already been declassified, but the lengthy report includes some new details.

President George W. Bush authorized the “President’s Surveillance Program” as part of the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The review was completed in July 2009. It found that while many senior intelligence officials believe the program filled a gap by increasing access to international communications, others including FBI agents, CIA analysts and managers “had difficulty evaluating the precise contribution of the PSP to counterterrorism efforts.” Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:24 PM

The secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted, a newly declassified document shows.

The document is a lengthy report on a once secret N.S.A. program code-named Stellarwind. The report was a joint project in 2009 by inspectors general for five intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and it was withheld from the public at the time, although a short, unclassified versionwas made public. The government released a redacted version of the full report to The New York Times on Friday evening in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush secretly told the N.S.A. that it could wiretap Americans’ international phone calls and collect bulk data about their phone calls and emails without obeying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over time, Stellarwind’s legal basis evolved, and pieces of it emerged into public view, starting with an article in The Times about warrantless wiretapping in 2005.The report amounts to a detailed history of the program. While significant parts remain classified, it includes some new information. For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 12:14 PM

An immigration attorney accusing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of a “Kafkaesque” failure to comply with a document request on Tuesday urged a Louisiana federal court to order the agency to hand over the documents he says he needs to properly represent his client in deportation proceedings.

Michael W. Gahagan, an attorney at The Immigration Law Firm of New Orleans, says in his summary judgment motion that USCIS cannot show that it has conducted a legally adequate search and that it hasn’t improperly withheld agency records. Gahagan had initially requested one document — a receipt notice for USCIS Form I-485 — an application to register permanent residence or adjust status for his client Lloyd Patterson, but instead received a “document dump” of 509 pages of unrelated information, he says.

Gahagan says that amid that dump, he noticed the USCIS failed to hand over 33 responsive pages within 20 days as part of his Freedom of Information Act request. The agency had indicated it referred the documents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but he said he’s skeptical. Continue>>>
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April 22, 2015 12:57 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked an Alaska federal judge Friday to toss a lawsuit accusing it of withholding documents related to its decision to stop what could be one of the largest copper mines in the country.

Plaintiff Pebble Limited Partnership is seeking the disclosure of records related to the potential mining project near Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska. The EPA said it properly processed the Freedom of Information Act request and released all responsive records to Pebble except for some that fall under statutory exemptions.

Pebble submitted a FOIA request to the EPA in January 2014 seeking documents containing any communication on the Pebble Mine or the agency’s Bristol Bay assessment, which examined the potential impacts of large-scale mining development on Bristol Bay fisheries and wildlife and on regional Alaska Native cultures. Continue>>>
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April 22, 2015 12:49 PM

As the fight over records in a high-profile Vanderbilt University rape case heads to the Tennessee Supreme Court, state and Metro lawyers are arguing against the release of the case files that remain under seal.

The Tennessean, eight media organizations and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government filed suit against Metro Nashville in fall 2013 seeking records in the hands of police, including text messages between Vanderbilt football players and coaches.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals partially ruled against the media coalition, but the state's highest court agreed to review the case, setting a May 28 date for oral arguments. Continue>>>
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April 21, 2015 2:05 PM

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finally released some records related to last year’s Bundy ranch confrontation in Bunkerville. Considering the limited number and scope of documents provided to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, one of two scenarios is true: Either the BLM is so incompetent that it put no thought into the overdone cattle roundup and never analyzed the guns-drawn showdown that resulted, or it’s so arrogant and unaccountable that its leaders believe they can ignore the law.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Keith Rogers, the agency provided PEER with a few dozen heavily redacted records that provided no new information about the dispute that mobilized militias and national media and made Southern Nevada the epicenter of federal land use disputes. “We don’t know why it took a year to find 44 pages,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said Wednesday.

The Review-Journal has filed several FOIA requests with the BLM as well, to find out how much money was wasted on the roundup — rooted in BLM grazing restrictions and the Bundy family’s refusal to pay grazing fees — and whether the BLM was adequately prepared to face armed resistance, among other questions that demand answers. To date, the BLM has not responded to the requests. Continue>>>
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