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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April 17, 2015 12:58 PM

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted updated guidance to the Project Open Data Github for agencies as they continue to compile indexes of their data holdings. Agencies are now instructed to “Include all ‘non-public’ data assets in their PDL [Public Data Listing], in addition to the ‘public’ and ‘restricted’ data assets that have long been required.” It also tells agencies to fully explain the reasons for "non-public" designations and redactions in the metadata.

This change turns the one-time results of a Sunlight FOIA request into effective policy moving forward, ensuring that the public will continue to have the fullest possible knowledge of agency data holdings. We have been urging OMB to embrace this method since before our FOIA was fulfilled — and we're thrilled to see it actually happening.

The guidance builds on last month’s historic release of comprehensive data indexes (referred to as Enterprise Data Inventories or EDIs) that was sparked by a Sunlight Foundation FOIA request. Continue>>>
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April 17, 2015 12:55 PM

A Florida federal judge on Tuesday turned back the Miccosukee Tribe’s bid for public records on a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney whom the tribe has accused of fraud, finding no fault in the DOJ’s decision to neither confirm nor deny the existence of the requested documents.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga granted the DOJ summary judgment in the Freedom of Information Act suit, ending the tribe’s bid for evidence to back up its suspicions that Guy Lewis had left his position as director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys under a cloud of misconduct in 2004, years before he represented the tribe in private practice.

“Although the FOIA favors the disclosure of government records for the good of the public, the DOJ has met its burden to show the [Office of Professional Responsibility], [Office of Tribal Justice], and EOUSA’s refusals to confirm or deny the existence of the records the Tribe is seeking are justified,” the judge wrote in an order, referring to the various DOJ offices named in the complaint. Continue>>>
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April 16, 2015 1:01 PM

Months after a teenager was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer, the city is still refusing to release the dash-cam video of the fatal shooting and didn’t even show it to aldermen Wednesday before they approved a $5 million settlement with the family.

The October 2014 shooting death of Laquon McDonald hasn’t generated the same kind of national attention as other recent high-profile confrontations involving officers. After some, in such places as South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona, video was released that quickly went viral.

In approving a settlement even before McDonald’s family filed a lawsuit, some members of the Chicago City Council disagreed on whether releasing the video could spark the kind of angry protests seen elsewhere. While Danny Solis said making it public could “fan the flames,” fellow Alderman Howard Brookins said fear of demonstrations or riots shouldn’t drive the decision. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2015 1:14 PM

Elliot Engstrom, of the Civitas Institute, writing for the Burlington Times News spotlights a real problem the General Assembly should address before it adjourns this year…that of open government, and more specifically the ineffective enforcement of the Public Records and Open Meetings laws. Elliot writes:

Last week, the Civitas Institute dropped our public records lawsuit against the Alamance County Board of Elections and Alamance County attorney. To the credit of the board and county attorney, the entire issue was resolved in less than four months. Unfortunately, this is lightning fast compared to the turnaround time for some state agencies.

Access to public records is a basic requirement of any democratic system. Through public records requests, North Carolina citizens can keep their elected officials accountable by keeping close tabs on the activities of state and local governments. Trust, but verify. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2015 12:56 PM

The Department of Homeland Security has experienced a 182 percent increase in the number of requests it receives under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since President Obama first took office in 2009, according to the DHS 2014 Freedom of Information Act Report published Thursday.

The DHS says it received a record 291,242 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2014, spending about $51.5 million to process and fill them. It fully granted only 16,651 of these requests, or about 5.7 percent, partially granted another 128,603, and denied 6,212 requests, the report stated.

According to DHS, the vast majority of requests were directed to three agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – 143,794 requests; Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – 47,261 requests; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – 85,081 requests. Continue>>>

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April 9, 2015 4:58 PM

In a March 2, 2015 decision, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the US District Court for the District of Columbia denied requested spoliation sanctions against US EPA but blasted the Agency for its “continued disregard” for its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) obligations and “offensively unapologetic” actions in response to claims of insufficiency.

Plaintiff Landmark Legal Foundation had submitted a FOIA request to US EPA in August 2012, seeking emails, text messages, and other electronically stored information (ESI) from high-ranking US EPA officials, including former Administrator Lisa Jackson, related to the release dates of key environmental regulations. In October 2012, after receiving insufficient responses from US EPA, Landmark filed suit to obtain the information.

US EPA responded to Landmark’s FOIA request with repeated deficient electronic searches, both before and after the lawsuit commenced. For example, a litigation hold notice instructing US EPA employees to preserve potentially relevant information was not issued by the Agency until October 23, 2012, over two months after Landmark submitted its FOIA request. And while the hold notice explained that ESI must be preserved regardless of its nature or where it was stored, including on smart phones and home computers, the notice was not sent to the Administrator or other high ranking US EPA officials. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 1:07 PM

The expanding reach of the Freedom of Information Act has introduced a new dynamic at federal agencies, and it is driving the need for IT professionals in the public sector to understand and conduct electronic discovery for records being requested by individuals and private parties under FOIA.

According to the Justice Department, more than 440,000 FOIA requests were fulfilled (either in full or partially) in 2013, yet a backlog of more than 95,000 from that year remains. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and Justice fulfilled the most requests, but nearly all federal agencies are subject to the law.

The broadening scope and scale of e-discovery in the public sector brings a new onslaught of challenges and considerations that are well-known among corporate legal and IT teams but relatively new to government agencies. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 1:04 PM

The State Department says is it overwhelmed by an increasing number of Freedom of Information Act requests, which it is struggling to process, Politico reports.

Adding to the deluge of requests, FOIA lawsuits have risen 60 percent over the last fiscal year, Politico noted of the increases, which if continued at the current pace could hit a 93 percent increase by year's end.

A total of 73 lawsuits against the State Department were pending as of March 31, Politico said. Of those, 29 came in within the past month. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:31 PM

D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS) is regularly investigated for its inefficient responses to life-threatening emergencies. Recent examples include a man who collapsed next to a fire station and died after receiving no immediate help; a man who died after police apparently shooed away an ambulance; and just last month, a toddler who died after choking on a grape, when emergency personnel a block away were not dispatched.

Yet despite the public scrutiny, FEMS has also proved itself slow on the uptake when it comes to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Last year, National Weather Service programmer Ryan Schuster and a handful of civic hackers at Code for DC decided to parse through the data to better understand the District’s emergency dispatch system, and where inefficiencies might lie. The project was called the Emergency Response Data Analysis project. Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 2:24 PM

The president who came to office claiming he would have the most open and transparent presidency in history is now denying or slowing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents at an unprecedented rate.

In 1966, Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act, a law giving the public and journalists access to government documents in an effort to bring more transparency to our government. It is this law that Obama’s federal government is increasingly circumventing.

Reporters from coast to coast are discovering that the federal government has slowed the release of documents to a crawl in a de facto denial of their release. As one reporter put it in The Washington Post, “They know that to delay is to deny… They know we have to move on to other stories.” Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:36 PM

At the request of the governor and prosecutors, the Virginia State Police are investigating the arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, but it’s unlikely the public will have access to much of the investigation.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows nearly all aspects of a criminal investigation to remain private, even after the investigation has closed. Law enforcement agencies can choose to release information from investigations but state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said that rarely happens in her agency.

An investigation was requested after pictures and videos of Johnson’s arrest show him on the ground with blood covering his face. Johnson’s attorney has stated that he needed 10 stitches. The agents have been put on administrative duties while state police review whether the incident violated policies. Continue>>>
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March 31, 2015 11:54 AM

At the request of the governor and prosecutors, the Virginia State Police are investigating the arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, but it’s unlikely the public will have access to much of the investigation.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows nearly all aspects of a criminal investigation to remain private, even after the investigation has closed. Law enforcement agencies can choose to release information from investigations but state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said that rarely happens in her agency.

An investigation was requested after pictures and videos of Johnson’s arrest show him on the ground with blood covering his face. Johnson’s attorney has stated that he needed 10 stitches. The agents have been put on administrative duties while state police review whether the incident violated policies. Continue>>>
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