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 2, 2015 9:18 AM

Open records requests and lawsuits go hand-in-hand. Agencies obfuscate, stall, perform deliberately inadequate searches and fail to respond in a timely manner. These actions frequently result in lawsuits, which are notably almost always filed by the requester. 

The Hamilton Township of New Jersey isn't like other government agencies. It's far more proactive.  Continue>>>

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May 13, 2015 10:39 AM

The State Department’s latest defense on why it can’t comply with your ancient Freedom of Information request for documents is: Blame it on Hillary.

State says its document-reviewing personnel are too overwhelmed by reviewing those 55,000 pages of e-mails former secretary Hillary Clinton turned over last year to do much else.

That apparently means other folks, who’ve waited years on their requests for State Department documents, are being told they’ll have to wait even longer because of the Clinton review. Continue>>>
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May 13, 2015 10:26 AM

Officials at several agencies told a Senate panel that Freedom of Information Act requests have become unmanageable because of a dramatic increase in the number of requests over the last few years.

The State Department saw its number of requests jump from fewer than 6,000 in fiscal 2008 to nearly 20,000 in fiscal 2014, said Joyce Barr, assistant secretary of the State Department Bureau of Administration, at a May 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

And when the number of requests rise, the number of cases sitting in the backlog waiting to be processed grows as well. Continue.>>
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May 12, 2015 12:56 PM

The House Oversight Committee asked nearly two dozen public interest groups to share their complaints about the federal government’s compliance with requests for government documents.

The committee is gearing up for a June 3 hearing on the government’s Freedom of Information Act process and is preparing an analysis of what is broken and what needs to be fixed.

“The committee is aware that executive branch agencies use several tactics to deny or delay responses to FOIA requests and FOIA reform is necessary,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said in a form letter sent to groups Friday. Continue>>>
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May 8, 2015 1:04 PM

The State Department has been dismissing about half of the press requests it receives for information under open government laws – a pattern of rejection that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee described on Wednesday as unacceptable and embarrassing.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking member of the committee, said the State Department has repeatedly failed to respect the country’s open government laws, like the Freedom of Information Act, more commonly known as FOIA. Reporters often use FOIA requests to make public previously unknown information about federal agencies. The State Department is one of many agencies obligated to comply with open government laws and yet its refusal to relinquish that information has forced The Associated Press to file a lawsuit against the department in March.

“This is unacceptable,” the Vermont Democrat said during a Wednesday congressional hearing on open government issues. “While I recognize that the number of FOIA requests has increased over the years and that the requests can be complex, this is not a reason to fall down on the job.” Continue>>>
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May 8, 2015 12:59 PM

For two groups on opposing sides of the political spectrum, requests to the Export-Import Bank for records under the Freedom of Information Act yield different results.

In November 2013, Americans for Limited Government filed a Freedom of Information Act request for correspondence between a consulting firm with ties to the Clinton administration and Export-Import Bank officials. Today—more than 500 days later—the bank has yet to respond to the conservative government watchdog’s request, and Ex-Im’s delayed response has prompted congressional inquiries.

However, an examination of public FOIA logs from the bank found the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has been more successful in obtaining records from Ex-Im. Continue>>>
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May 7, 2015 11:30 AM

The Justice Department’s latest summary of all agency Freedom of Information Act activity in fiscal 2014 shows a record number of requests.

 “Agency FOIA offices received a record high 714,231 requests while also facing several other challenges including reduced staffing, tough fiscal times, and a three-week government shutdown during which requests continued to come in when there was no staff available to process them,” Justice’s Office of Information Policy wrote in a report and compilation uploaded onto FOIA.gov. “Managing these challenges, the government overall was able to process 647,142 requests while continuing to maintain a high release rate of over 91 percent for the sixth year in a row. The government overall also improved its average processing times for simple and complex track requests.”

The increase of 9,837 requests over the previous year continued a four-year trend of setting a record for requests, Justice said. For the sixth consecutive year, the Homeland Security Department received the most requests, with 291,242, a 26 percent increase. The next highest numbers of requests went to the departments of Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2015 11:45 AM

The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the District to postpone its plans to provide body cameras to Metropolitan Police Department officers, challenging the mayor’s plan to keep the videos from public view.

The ACLU of the Nation’s Capital says the city’s plan to spend $5.1 million to purchase 2,800 body-worn cameras for patrol officers should not occur without a mechanism for allowing the videos to be redacted and released to the public.

“Police accountability is not achieved by allowing the police to police themselves,” said Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of the local chapter of the ACLU. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2015 11:32 AM

The FBI has just released more than 5,000 pages of documents regarding its highly controversial "Stingray" cell phone location tracker, a device so secretive that the agency has forced local law enforcement to drop criminal cases rather than risk disclosing details about it at trial. But don't expect to open these documents with the intent of understanding, well, anything about how the FBI uses them—nearly everything is redacted.

Stingrays are used by the FBI and state and local law enforcement to track potential criminal suspects. Technically, Stingrays are called IMSI catchers, because they catch the "international mobile subscriber identity" of every cell phone within a certain radius of the device (usually a couple miles). This necessarily means that law enforcement is tracking everyone nearby when it uses one, often without a warrant even for the criminal suspect they're targeting.

Thanks to a series of lawsuits, Freedom of Information Act requests, and court decisions, we know that Stingray use is widespread, and we know that the FBI goes to great pains to hide their use. Continue>>>
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FBI, FOIA request, lawsuit
May 1, 2015 11:30 AM

For more than six weeks, the encounter between a Hinsdale High School District 86 Board member and a Hinsdale South High School student has generated a lot of controversy and comments at board meetings.

The district has a recording of the March 12 incident, made by a security camera outside Hinsdale South, but it has not released it to the public or the press.

Yet, several people have been allowed to watch the recording at the district office. They include the people present when the incident occurred: board member Claudia Manley and her husband, Noel Manley; Marissa Dupont, the student involved; and Mary Sullivan, an adult who was handing out campaign material with Marissa. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:53 AM

A Louisiana federal judge declined to say Monday that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and other government agencies skirted their obligations after an immigration lawyer’s Freedom of Information Act request, but said some questions remained unanswered.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Wilkinson Jr. recommended denial of two motions for summary judgement in a suit filed by Michael W. Gahagan, an attorney at The Immigration Law Firm of New Orleans.

Gahagan has alleged the government violated the law when it refused to turn over certain documents from the immigration file of a man he is representing. His motions sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including an order that CBP and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement hand over paperwork not exempt from FOIA requests.  Continue>>>

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April 30, 2015 11:24 AM

Multiple whistleblowers in the US Marshals Service have informed Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s office that leadership is allegedly using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to retaliate against them for seeking to report systemic abuses of power.

In a letter to the Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates of the Justice Department, Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote, that “many whistleblowers” have now “come forward in the last month” to provide information suggesting the Assets Forfeiture Division of the US Marshals Service suffers from nepotism. For example, assistant director, Kimberly Beal, allegedly hired a family member as an intern and approved numerous cross-country trips for that family member, which are supposed to be for criminal investigators.

One whistleblower told Grassley this sort of thing is just a part of “day-to-day business” at the US Marshals Service. Continue>>>
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