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 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.

Continue . . .

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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."

Continue >>

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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 ...

Continue >>

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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.

Continue ...

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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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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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