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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September 5, 2013 12:36 PM

From Mitchell Daily Republic:  HURON — A copy of a secret agreement that directed nearly $175,000 to an ex-superintendent of the Huron School District must be provided to The Daily Republic, a judge ruled Wednesday.

[. . .]

In a four-page decision, Third Circuit Judge Jon Erickson said the district must release a copy of the settlement agreement between it and ex-superintendent Ross Opsal.

The agreement had the district making monthly payments to Opsal after his resignation in March 2011, according to public payment information already obtained by The Daily Republic. The reason for the payments, which is presumably spelled out in the agreement, has never been made public.

[. . .]

Erickson’s ruling affirms an earlier decision in favor of the newspaper issued in March by the state Office of Hearing Examiners. The school district, despite the two rulings against it, could still choose to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

[. . .]

The South Dakota Newspaper Association assisted the newspaper with the cost of the lawsuit. Dave Bordewyk, the association’s general manager, praised the judge’s decision. “It’s a good thing,” Bordewyk said. “It’s a good decision for open government in South Dakota.”

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September 5, 2013 12:04 PM

From Idea Lab:  New technology tools, combined with raised expectations among voters and stakeholders for government transparency, have sparked a movement toward “open government.” Championed by advocacy organizations and a few high-profile elected officials, the trend seeks to promote greater accountability and responsiveness for the systems of representative democracy. An area of particular opportunity — as well as potential concern — is the growing cache of large datasets of public information now available on the Internet.

Government entities from cities to nations are making data not only public but accessible. Earlier, such data was often buried in City Hall filing cabinets, provided only after Freedom of Information Act requests, or published electronically but in cumbersome formats. Machine-readable formats allow new applications, analysis and visualizations to be developed by anyone with basic skills and an Internet connection. Datasets from many corners of government are coming online: public health and demographic information, business licenses and property ownership, campaign contributions and expenditures, crime reports, school test scores, and much more.

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September 3, 2013 12:03 PM

From Courthouse News Service:  Though makers of the film "Zero Dark Thirty" were given access to the officers who helped take out Osama bin Laden, a government watchdog cannot get the same treatment, a federal judge ruled.

A few months after a team of Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, Judicial Watch learned that the Defense Department and CIA had been communicating with director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal.

[. . .]

Judicial Watch demanded to see the records of the communication between the government and the filmmakers under the Freedom of Information Act in 2011.

Though the government answered that request, it redacted portions of the documents to protect the identities of the Navy Seals and CIA officers.

Judicial Watch then filed suit, arguing that the meeting put the officers' identities into the public domain.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras disagreed . . .

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August 28, 2013 10:54 AM

From Mercer Island Reporter:  Those looking for a more transparent government are increasingly relying on public records to make it happen.

They hope the more documents they obtain, the clearer their view of what’s really going on behind closed doors in school districts, city halls and county buildings.

But there are those throughout the public sector convinced some of these Washingtonians are abusing the Public Records Act.

An alliance of government forces — whose members often are the targets of the records — tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to rewrite the act to make it easier to repel requesters whose motives they question.

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August 27, 2013 10:03 AM

From FederalNewsRadio.com:  New technologies and the cloud are making it easier for agencies to deal with the onslaught of Freedom of Information Act requests they've been receiving over the last few years.

FOIA-in-the-cloud is a growing trend among agencies that need to ease the paper and cost burdens.

Edith Pemberton, the manager of Information Management and Customer Relations at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said the housing crisis over the last few years has had a huge impact in the number of FOIA requests.

She said the Department of Housing and Urban Development moved its FOIA system to the cloud in 2011 using FOIAxpress application from AINS to help deal with the deluge of requests.

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August 26, 2013 11:40 AM

COLUMBIA, Mo. (August 26, 2013) -- In a major ruling in a case supported by the Knight FOI Fund, a Washington DC-based federal district judge has ruled that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot use the CIA Act of 1949 as a catchall rationale for avoiding disclosures under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, which may or may not be appealed, is a victory for attorney Kel McClanahan and Virginia-based National Security Counselors, which had been awarded grants from the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) to support the legal action it began in 2011.

But in forcing the federal spy agency to re-examine its broad interpretation of its nondisclosure prerogatives under FOIA, information-seeking efforts by scores of other historians, journalists and researchers may also be affected.

[...]

Ken Bunting, executive director of the University of Missouri-based NFOIC, called the ruling “an important victory for transparency” and said his organization and the Knight FOI Fund were happy they had a hand in helping National Security Counselors win the case.

“Congress never intended for intelligence agencies to have a carte blanche, blanket exemption from FOIA. This is an important ruling that will stifle the CIA in its long-running efforts to create such a blanket exemption out of whole cloth,” Bunting said.

See the full release and opinion here.

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August 23, 2013 10:42 AM

From latimes.com:  The budget ax has fallen on a CIA office that focused on declassifying historical materials, a move scholars say will mean fewer public disclosures about long-buried intelligence secrets and scandals.

The Historical Collections Division, which has declassified documents on top Soviet spies, a secret CIA airline in the Vietnam War, the Cuban missile crisis and other major operations, has been disbanded. The office that handles Freedom of Information Act requests will take over the work.

CIA officials said they closed the Historical Collections Division to accommodate federal budget cuts that the White House and Congress proposed last year to create pressure for a deficit reduction deal. No deal materialized, so across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester were imposed.

[...]

"This move is a true loss to the public," said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who frequently litigates against the CIA. He said the CIA office that handles Freedom of Information Act requests "is the most obstructionist and unfriendly of those I have dealt with during the last two decades."

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August 22, 2013 9:21 AM

From MLive.com:  A federal appeals panel denied a request by the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for information on the FBI's use of data on race and ethnicity in targeting investigations.

The ACLU had filed suit in U.S. District Court after a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI was denied. The ACLU was seeking information on how the FBI is collecting and categorizing demographic data to analyze potential threats. The FBI was allowed to use that data in 2010, according to the Department of Justice.

The district court upheld the denial, saying the FBI properly relied on exemptions from the disclosure law that allow withholding information that could jeopardize national security or interfere with law enforcement activities. The ACLU appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit.

In a unanimous decision, the three-judge appeals court upheld the denial ...

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August 20, 2013 9:10 AM

From USA Today:  The CIA, in recently declassified documents, has formally acknowledged that the spy agency helped to plan and execute the coup in Iran in 1953 that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister who was in the process of nationalizing the country's British-controlled oil industry.

The acknowledgement is contained in documents obtained by the National Security Archive through a Freedom of Information Act. The Archive, which is based at George Washington University's Gelman Library in Washington, posted the documents on its website along with related material.

The explicit reference to the CIA's role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s, the Archive notes.

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CIA, FOIA, FOIA requests, Iran
August 20, 2013 8:43 AM

From Jason Leopold at Public Record:  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicated that the FBI has likely located responsive records pertaining to investigative journalist Michael Hastings, who died in a tragic car accident in Los Angeles in June, and the agency expects to finish processing the records in about three weeks.

DOJ revealed the details in a court filing Tuesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed with Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in FOIA research revolving around the policing of dissent. Shapiro and I both filed FOIA requests with the FBI after Hastings’s death for any records the agency may have on the reporter. When the FBI failed to respond our records requests within the 20 business day timeframe as required by law and Shapiro’s request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days we sued.

Get the rest here.

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August 16, 2013 8:14 AM

From USA Today:  After years of government denials, the CIA is acknowledging in newly declassified documents the existence of Area 51, the mysterious site in central Nevada that has spawned top-secret tools, weapons and not a few UFO conspiracies.

George Washington University's National Security Archive obtained a CIA history of the U-2 spy plane program through a [FOIA] request and released it Thursday.

National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson reviewed the history in 2002, but all mentions of Area 51 had been redacted.

Richelson says he requested the history again in 2005 and received a version a few weeks ago with mentions of Area 51 restored.

Visit USA Today for the rest.

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August 15, 2013 12:30 PM

From Wired:  Months after a federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit seeking Central Intelligence Agency documents outlining the government’s drone targeted killing program, the President Barack Obama administration is again claiming that acknowledging if it has such paperwork could disclose classified secrets concerning whether it even carries out targeted killings.

All the while, a federal appeals court ruled in March that everybody knows the government performs targeted killings.

“The President of the United States has himself publicly acknowledged that the United States uses drone strikes against al-Qaeda,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had ruled.

The legal flap concerns a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (.pdf) brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in which the CIA has been refusing to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas, despite Obama’s and even a former CIA director’s admission of the government’s targeted killing program.

Get the rest here.

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