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 25, 2015 1:05 AM

The legal attack hit Kevin Folta in early February.

After receiving a FOIA request from US Right to Know—a nonprofit dedicated to exposing “the failures of the corporate food system“—the University of Florida notified Folta, a food and agricultural science professor at the university, that he would have to turn over all of his e-mails relating to correspondence with 14 different firms involved in agribusiness. His options: Submit all of his emails and allow lawyers to sift through them independently, or spend hours doing it himself alongside legal counsel.

The request is a response to public arguments by Folta that genetically modified foods are safe. Folta compares the strength of the scientific consensus on GM safety to the consensus on climate change and vaccines, and US Right to Know—or USRTK—believes the food and agricultural industries may be pressuring Folta and other scientists into voicing such arguments. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2015 2:00 PM

Illinois State Police investigators interviewed 20 witnesses and reviewed thousands of documents as part of their investigation into the Springfield Police Department's destruction of internal affairs records, newly released documents show.

A seven-page memorandum outlining a timeline of key dates and excerpts of the state police investigation was released to The State Journal-Register on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report precedes the release of an 837-page, partially redacted case file — along with several audio files — that state police plan to release Tuesday. Continue>>>

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February 23, 2015 1:42 PM

An antiabortion group’s appeal, under the Freedom of Information Act to have access to documents involving a federal grant being awarded to a Planned Parenthood Agency, has been rejected by the federal appeals court.

In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded federal grant funds to the Planned Parenthood Agency. The New Hampshire Right to Life subsequently filed a lawsuit, which sought documents related to the award of the grant.

According to the US Court of Appeals document, the District Chief Judge Joseph LaPlante denied the group’s request for certain documents (1). Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:09 PM

Two First Amendment groups have requested permission to file briefs in support of a public records lawsuit brought by The Tennessean and other media organizations that goes before the state's Supreme Court in May seeking evidence in a rape case against four former Vanderbilt University football players.

The Tennessean, eight media organizations and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government filed suit against Metro Nashville last fall seeking access to records in the case that were not created by government entities but were in the hands of police. Those records include text messages between Vanderbilt football coaches and players.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the media coalition, but in January the state's highest court agreed to review the case. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 12:58 PM

As students and journalists, knowing the ins and outs of what goes on at our University is important. Whether that means knowing where our money is going, what is happening with regards to administration, or who is coming to campus, we like to know it all. Requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act helps us do that. The act allows us to legally obtain this information and doing so allows us to gain better insight about happenings on our campus. The information and transparency of FOIA content is open to everyone.

Earlier this month, The Oklahoma Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma, published a copy of the contract between musician Jack White and the university. This contract revealed that the University of Oklahoma spent $80,000 to get White to perform on campus.

The contract also listed very specific requests from White, who demanded that the University of Oklahoma not allow a single banana in his sight. Homemade guacamole, in contrast, had to be in the band’s dressing room, and the contract even included a recipe. Continue>>>
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February 16, 2015 11:05 AM

College environmentalists are using public records laws to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring of an economist at the University of Kansas (KU) who has spoken out against wind subsidies, according to his attorney.

Dr. Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the university, found himself at the center of an environmentalist campaign after testifying to the state legislature that Kansas should do away with green energy quotas in the spring of 2014. Shortly after his testimony, Schuyler Kraus, a KU student and environmentalist, submitted a public records request demanding all of his email correspondence dating back to 2004.

“In light of recent testimony made by Dr. Arthur P. Hall in favor of S.B. 433, an effort to repeal Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standards, Students for a Sustainable Future (SSF) endeavors to bring KU students and Kansas citizens greater transparency regarding Dr. Hall’s background, connections, and affiliations to disclose significant conflicts of interest,” the records request begins. “The processes by which Dr. Hall and others were hired at KU were orchestrated by Charles and/or David Koch.” Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:33 PM

Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs (FRAYR'-ikz) waited four days last month for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to declare that he should keep a taxpayer-funded report about sexual harassment allegations against his predecessor under wraps.

The Associated Press and other news organizations had been waiting 10 months for the same decision.

Madigan's office says the attorney general does not play favorites and blames the delay on a backlog.

A spokeswoman says that when Frerichs inquired, the office's public access counselor realized an opinion had been written "for some time" but not distributed. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:27 AM

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has turned down an FOIA request from The Hill to release more than 500 pages of documents relating to the Tea Party targeting scandal at the IRS.

This is just the latest indication that the Obama administration is trying to "run out the clock" on the investigation so that current officials will be out of government by the time any useful information is released.

What makes these 500 pages of documents so important is that they were used as a basis for the TIGTA report of May, 2013 in which the IRS was accused of using "inappropriate criteria" to target conservative groups. Continue>>>
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February 10, 2015 1:49 PM

Details of a plot to kill Occupy Houston leaders won't be released after a federal court upheld the FBI's claim that the documents are legally exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.

The FBI argued information was withheld, including 12 of 17 relevant pages, to protect the identity of confidential sources who were "members of organized violent groups," according to Courthouse News Service.

A heavily-redacted FBI document first revealed a Houston plot "to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles." Continue>>>
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February 9, 2015 12:41 PM

We've written many stories about ridiculous responses to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests (as well as similar state and local law requests) over the years. I've personally filed a few FOIA requests over the years and have never seen one sufficiently answered in the time limit required by the law.

These days, it's becoming all too common for people to have to go to court to actually get such public records requests answered. Of course, filing a lawsuit is not easy or cheap, and unless you're the ACLU, EFF or Jason Leopold (the so-called "FOIA terrorist"), not many people actually go that far. And that's what the various government agencies depend on. I currently have two outstanding FOIA requests -- one involving Homeland Security which has simply stopped responding to repeated requests for an update (after nearly a year) and a second one involving a state government agency that is demanding thousands of dollars for a very simple request. I imagine I'll have more to say on both of those eventually.

In the meantime, the EFF has decided to do something beyond just suing: naming and shaming the most egregious violators (and celebrating those who filed the requests). EFF has announced its "Foilies" awards for "the most outrageous responses to Freedom of Information Act and state open records act requests." Anyone is free to nominate examples, even if you weren't the one who made the request. You just need to be able to point to the details of the request (whether the specific responses and/or news stories about them): Continue>>>
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EFF, FOIA request, Foilies
February 5, 2015 1:43 PM

Knowledge is power, but it can also be profitable. According to a recent study by academics at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Hedge Funds are using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get access to information that frequently leads to trading profits.

Most people associate the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with investigative reporters looking for a story, not Wall Street hedge funds. However, it turns out that FOIA requests regarding government interactions wiith drug companies are another method for professional investors to get an edge according to a new study by Univ. of Maryland academics Alberto G. Rossi and Russ Wermers, as well as coauthor Antonio Gargano from the University of Melbourne.

Members of the public (including the investment community) can request many kinds of information that the government doesn’t routinely make public using FOIA. The information received falls into a gray area in terms of financial markets as it’s generally considered public but not broadly disseminated. Continue>>>

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