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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December 18, 2014 12:49 PM

Early this year, the Air Force cracked down on FOIA requests for unfiltered radar records tracking air traffic across the United States. In its decision to withhold data that had been accessible for god knows how long, Air Combat Command implied that the release of certain computerized documents — in this case, known as En Route Intelligence Tool, or ERIT data — would expose vulnerabilities in coverage.

The timing of this seemed a little arbitrary, considering how those inferred vulnerabilities had been available to homicidal fanatics and other species of devilish riff-raff for more than a decade after the 9/11 catastrophe.

But a closer look at more recent history suggests the clampdown went into effect because UFO researchers, who in 2008 had been enormously successful in reconstructing one of the most detailed incidents on record, were getting useful material lawfully through military sources at the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (84th RADES) in Utah. De Void wanted a bit more information and sent this email to the USAF’s designated point person, Anh Trinh, on June 3: Continue>>>

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December 17, 2014 5:14 PM

In response to recent emails and phone calls I have received regarding my “yes” vote on HB 3796, I would like to explain why this legislation will, in fact, increase access to public records and improve the way voluminous or large Freedom of Information Act requests are processed.

HB 3796, which was vetoed by the governor but overridden by the Senate (49-1-0) and House of Representatives (77-36-1) this fall, will increase government transparency by allowing public bodies to more efficiently respond to FOIA requests for information that is available on the Internet while giving public bodies more time and flexibility to deal with voluminous FOIA requests.

By allowing public bodies to refer FOIA requesters to public websites for valuable government information, it will save time and money for requesters and public bodies. It is anticipated many public bodies will choose to make public records available online rather than expend valuable and scarce resources to deal with routine FOIA requests, which will increase transparency and availability of public records. By allowing more time and flexibility to deal with voluminous requests, public bodies will remain responsible for making public records accessible, but will be able to manage large FOIA requests in a way that effectively uses the resources of the public body. Continue>>>
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December 9, 2014 3:11 PM

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn stopped a $20 million state construction grant to the College of DuPage last June when a troubling email surfaced from President Robert Breuder to the Board of Trustees. The email outlined a political strategy helpful to the incumbent governor in an effort to procure the millions of dollars. Furthermore, Breuder suggested “bank it until we figure out how to use it, and then building something.” It was the first in a long line of irregularities uncovered during our seven-month investigation of the $300 million-per-year community college.

Now, COD admits no meeting minutes exist that record board votes changing Breuder’s $469,000 per year contract. In Illinois, without public votes, such addendums are invalid. Without the contract changes, COD trustees may have paid Breuder without legal authority to do so — since 2012.

Last Friday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Lake County States Attorney Michael Nerheim received my Quo Warranto application seeking a review of Breuder’s employment contract and addendums. Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:36 AM

Those seeking documents from the Department of Homeland Security will likely have to wait for their requests to be filled. According to a new report released this month from the DHS Privacy Office, the agency now has a backlog of more than 50,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, The Hill reported, with most of those related to immigration records.

The office, which must report annually to Congress, said for fiscal year 2013, requests went up a record-setting 18 percent, hitting a total of 231,534. It will rely on contractors as well as staff directed at the largest backlogs, according to the report.

The department noted that about 95 percent of the requests were from agencies like the Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration Services, The Hill noted. Continue>>>

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October 6, 2014 10:55 AM

A review of the Internal Revenue Service's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act found the agency intentionally withheld or failed to "adequately search" for requested information in hundreds of cases.

In others, the IRS released more than it was authorized, dispensing "sensitive taxpayer information," including individuals' bank records. The number of FOIA requests that had piled up in the agency's backlog jumped 84 percent at the end of fiscal year 2013, the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration found in a report made public Wednesday. As of June 2014, the agency's backlog of FOIA requests had grown by an additional 16 percent.

TIGTA attributed the spike in backlogged information requests to the "influx of exempt organization requests starting in June 2013." It was learned in May 2013 that the IRS had targeted and harassed hundreds of Tea Party and conservative nonprofit applicants during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, sparking a national scandal that culminated in congressional and criminal investigations. Continue>>>
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FOIA requests, IRS, taxes
October 3, 2014 11:16 AM

Complying with the 1966 Freedom of Information Act these days is a hugely complex technological feat that goes far beyond filing cabinets, good judgment and black markers.

One trick to organizing and handling mind-boggling numbers of documents is keeping in mind the requesters' needs, according to experts looking to make this government service more effective.

Last year, federal agencies received a total of 704,394 FOIA requests, with more than 230,000 going to the Department of Homeland Security alone. Continue>>>
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August 18, 2014 12:33 PM

What's your dragon attack plan?

Freedom of Information Acts are a powerful transparency tool between governments and constituents. But they can also yield to some pretty freaky inquiries–as we found out Saturday when an organization of local governments representing more than 350 councils in England and Wales released a list of the most unusual requests they had received so far this year

Of that list, we present here–David Letterman style–the Top 10 Weirdest Petitions English Councils Have Had to Field in 2014, along with some snarky answer suggestions for the council-members:


1. “What plans are in place to protect the town from a dragon attack?” (Wigan Council)
Our answer: We haven’t gotten that far in A Song of Fire and Ice yet, sorry.


2. “Please list all the types of animals you have frozen since March 2012, including the type and quantity of each animal.” (Cambridge City Council)
Our answer: We can only account for the types of animals we have subjected to repeated screenings of Disney’s “Frozen.” The results may be disturbing. Continue>>>
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FOIA requests, humor, UK
June 27, 2014 7:04 AM

The campaign of state Rep. TOM CROSS for state treasurer thinks it is not fair that freedom of information requests to the House and Senate have been handled very differently.

The office of the House clerk released hundreds of pages of documents about the 21 years spent by Cross, a Republican from Oswego, in the Illinois House. Among those asking for the documents was ZACH KOUTSKY, campaign manager for state Sen. MIKE FRERICHS, D-Champaign, who is the Democratic candidate for treasurer.

But the Senate president's office, asked by a consultant to the Cross campaign for information about Frerichs' seven years in the Senate, so far has asked that the request be narrowed, but has not released the information. Much, but not all, of the information sought is similar. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:49 PM

In Gainesville, Fla., it doesn’t take a Freedom of Information request to find out what city officials are chattering about on email. One merely has to go online and read them.

That city recently began posting email correspondence about public business to and from the mayor and the city commissioners. There may be other localities doing it as well, but this is the first one that’s been brought to my attention.

I must give credit to another FOIA blogger, this one from a member of the Society of Professional Journalists who calls the blog “FOI FYI.” The emails can be accessed by date, specific mailboxes, or by specific words in either the subject line or body of the email. You can even export them into a file for further use. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2013 7:43 AM

From MuckRock: A veritable FOIA frenzy ensued in 2013 following a series of leaks about NSA surveillance programs, recently released documents show.

From June 6 to September 4, the National Security Agency’s FOIA load increased 1,054 percent over its 2012 intake. In that three-month span, the agency received 3,382 public records requests. For comparison, the NSA received just 293 requests over the same period in 2012.

The statistics come from an internal agency email released to MuckRock last week. We requested the NSA’s FOIA logs for this year, as well as any internal communications regarding the agency’s FOIA receipts in 2013. We're still waiting for the most recent FOIA log... probably because the NSA FOIA office is buried under requests.

The emails show the FOIA flood unleashed when whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information about Internet and telephone surveillance programs. The number of requests sent to the agency appears to be unprecedented.

The NSA statistics indicate that the agency received 1,809 public records requests in 2012. That amount was nearly doubled just this summer. According to the email, the heaviest flow of requests hit the agency in the early summer shortly after publication of the first media stories about the NSA’s spying on American citizens.

Visit MuckRock for more.

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September 10, 2013 8:48 AM

From Mitchell Daily Republic: HURON -- An agreement that remained secret for more than two years and sent thousands of dollars to an ex-superintendent was unsealed and read aloud Monday evening at a Huron Board of Education meeting .

The board voted during the meeting at the Huron Arena's Instructional Planning Center to unseal the five-page agreement, pursuant to a recent court order won by The Daily Republic. The agreement reveals that the board and then-superintendent Ross Opsal agreed in March 2011 to part ways before the expiration of his contract. The board agreed to pay Opsal his base salary plus extra amounts for retirement and health care each month for a period extending up to June 2012.

According to the terms of the agreement, the total amount of payments to Opsal could have been nearly $175,000 (the amount actually paid was not immediately available Monday night). Meanwhile, the district had hired and was paying a new superintendent.

The agreement did not explain why Opsal's employment ended, which is what The Daily Republic sought to know. The two current members of the Huron Board of Education who were members when the agreement was reached declined to say anything further Monday night about Opsal's departure from the district.

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The Daily Republic, acting on a tip from a reader who saw payment amounts to Opsal listed in newspaper legal announcements after his departure, sought a copy of the agreement for a news story published in 2012. The district denied the request, and the denial sparked a fight over the document that finally ended Monday.

Visit Mitchell Daily Republic for more.

Also see: Mitchell Daily Republic wins case against Huron (S.D.) schools for more background.

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September 6, 2013 2:31 PM

From OpenTheGovernment.org: Be on the lookout for the upcoming release of the latest version of our Secrecy Report. As regular readers may know, this report includes multi-year tracking and analysis of indicators of openness and secrecy in the federal government. Among the indicators included in the report are: national intelligence spending, responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, classification and declassification, and more.

This year's report will also include an explanation of how some of the revelations made as a result of documents leaked by Edward Snowden throw serious doubt on the validity and meaningfulness of the numbers the government releases about the size and scope of surveillance programs. It will also include what we now understand to be the possible breadth and scope of the National Security Agency's communications surveillance programs as a result of these leaks.

Additionally, this year's report will include a special section outlining specific steps the Administration should take to kick-start a real move towards openness. Similar to results from our prior years’ Secrecy Report (PDF), this year's will show that, while there has been some reduction in secrecy in the federal government, the change is slow. The steps included in our special section are targeted at creating rapid change that would translate into a more open, efficient, and accountable government.

Visit OpenTheGovernment.org for more.

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