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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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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August 15, 2013 9:49 AM

From WashingtonPost.com:  A federal judge said Wednesday that the Environmental Protection Agency may have tried to evade a Freedom of Information Act request and added that “numerous inconsistencies” in the agency’s court filings “undermine confidence in their truthfulness.”

As a result, Judge Royce C. Lamberth granted the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, which filed the request for e-mails of current and former top EPA officials, the right to question them in person and in writing.

“The possibility that unsearched personal email accounts may have been used for official business raises the possibility that leaders in the EPA may have purposefully attempted to skirt disclosure under the FOIA,” Lamberth wrote.

Get the rest here.

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August 14, 2013 2:37 PM

From KCAU-TV.com:  Iowa's three public universities are naming new transparency officers to oversee public records and public hearings.

The Iowa Board of Regents said Monday the transparency officers have been appointed in response to recommendations approved last week to improve responses to public records requests and access to information.

They are University of Iowa vice president Mark Braun, Iowa State University assistant to the president Shirley Knipfel, and University of Northern Iowa controller Gary Shontz.

Get the rest here.

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August 13, 2013 11:38 AM

From Wired.com:  After half-a-year of delays and roadblocks, the U.S Secret Service today released the first 104 pages of agency documents about the late coder and activist Aaron Swartz, including a brief report on Swartz’s suicide less than three months before his scheduled trial.

“On 1/11/13, Aaron Swartz was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn, as a result of an apparent suicide,” reads a January 17, 2013 Secret Service memo. “A suppression hearing in this had been scheduled for 1/25/13 with a trial date of 4/1/13, in U.S. District Court of the District of Massachusetts.”

In January 2011, Swartz was caught using MIT’s public network to bulk-download 4 million academic articles from the JSTOR archive. MIT had a subscription to the archive that made it free to use from MIT’s campus. The Secret Service was brought into the case early on, and federal prosecutors ultimately charged Swartz with wire fraud and computer hacking.

Get the rest here.

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August 9, 2013 8:30 AM

From Politico:  A federal judge in New York has rejected a bid to restore access to National Security Council records under the Freedom of Information Act. U.S. District Court Judge Eric Vitaliano, who sits in Brooklyn, said in a ruling dated Tuesday that he saw no reason to depart from a 1996 D.C. Circuit ruling that found files beyond the reach of FOIA on the grounds that the NSC's primary role is to advise the president.

"Current events have changed little, except perhaps to heighten the American government's concern over (and awareness of) threats to national security interests. The operational proximity between the President and the Council remains exceptionally close under the current administration," Vitaliano wrote in a 14-page opinion posted here. "There can be little doubt regarding the unique operational proximity between the President and the NSC."

Get the rest here.

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August 6, 2013 9:29 AM

From The Daily Progress:  A shift to electronic filing for financial disclosure forms for 25,000 state workers and elected officials means it could cost the public dramatically more to get the records.

Searching 2008 to 2011 disclosure records for 525 Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control employees, for example, cost The Daily Progress nothing. The price tag for accessing the same documents for 2012 would have been $1,200, according to state officials.

Last year’s shift to electronic filing leaves it to Patrick Mayfield, the sole employee and director of the state's Conflict of Interest Office, to download the forms one-by-one from a state server and then print them individually.

[...]

"The state's decision on how to manage their records should not create a cost passed on to consumers," said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. "Those documents exist so that people can see them."

See the rest here.

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July 30, 2013 10:37 AM

From Jason Leopold at The Public Record: A few weeks ago, the nonpartisan organization Cause of Action posted a story on its website about a secret Pentagon policy that calls for certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that may generate media attention to first be approved by the Pentagon.

Naturally, I was eager to find out what FOIA requests analysts believed would be of interest to the Pentagon. So, I filed a FOIA for a copy of the list of those FOIAs.

On Friday, the Office of Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff sent me the list. It makes for interesting reading.

[...]

[R]equests included several filed with the Army for documents related to the pre-trial hearing of Pfc. Bradley Manning; Air Force contracting documents; Guantanamo records; congressional correspondence; presidential travel documents; “investigations of violent crimes allegedly committed by civilian contracts in Iraq or Afghanistan” American University filed with the Defense Contracting Management Agency (DMCA) ...

Also from the Public Record:  We're suing the FBI for records on journalist Michael Hastings.

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July 24, 2013 12:03 PM

From ProPublica:  The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic," she added.

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July 24, 2013 11:58 AM

From The Blog of Legal Times:  A federal trial judge in Washington [July 23] urged the government to continue reviewing thousands of pages of documents that could be released in a public records lawsuit seeking information from the Secret Service about the Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

The high-profile suit hit a snag this month when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the digital library JSTOR filed requests to intervene to have a say in the scope of any information that is released to the public.

[...]

Swartz committed suicide in January as computer crimes charges were pending against him in Boston federal district court. Prosecutors allege Swartz illegally downloaded millions of articles from JSTOR via MIT computers. Some critics have charged the prosecution lacked merit and that the potential punishment was too harsh.

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July 23, 2013 1:38 PM

From CharlotteObserver.com:  A judge has dismissed a lawsuit contending that one of the nation’s largest public hospital chains, Carolinas HealthCare System, violated the state public records law.

In an order signed Monday, Superior Court Judge Robert Sumner agreed that the Charlotte-based hospital system has a right to keep confidential a legal settlement that it obtained against the former Wachovia Bank.

Gary Jackson, the Charlotte lawyer who filed the public records lawsuit, says he will appeal that ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

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