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 30, 2013 12:00 AM

From FreeTimes: The South Carolina Public Interest Foundation has filed a lawsuit with the Richland County Clerk of Court against the State Ethics Commission, alleging that the body charged with enforcing state ethics laws violated the Freedom of Information Act by responding to a reporter’s request for a public record with a falsehood.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Ethics Commission initially told local news outlet The Nerve that the letter had been destroyed, but that was disproved when evidence of the letter appeared in a Nov. 17 Associated Press report.

In its filing, dated Dec. 27, the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation asks the court to rule that Hayden and the Ethics Commission violated the Freedom of Information Act. The plaintiffs only ask to be compensated for their legal expenses and any additional relief the court deems fair.

Continue>>

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December 10, 2013 12:25 PM

From Center for Effective Government: Of the 100 agencies in the federal government subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), dozens of agencies have not yet updated their FOIA regulations to reflect requirements in the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The OPEN Government Act required federal agencies to better assist people who make requests for public information under FOIA – for instance, by providing individualized tracking numbers in order to check the status of a request. Despite additional direction from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to improve FOIA processing, six years later, most agency regulations include few of the best practices described below.

FOIA regulations should be easy for both requesters and agency staff to understand and should promote transparency by highlighting existing practices in federal agencies. The Obama administration has committed to developing common FOIA regulations and practices applicable to all agencies. This report is designed to be a practical guide for the administration and agency staff engaged in improving FOIA regulations and practices.

The report recommends agencies adopt the following eight best practices for agency FOIA regulations: ...

Visit Center for Effective Government for more.

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December 6, 2013 1:03 PM

Press release from ACLU: SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Popular Democracy today filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to compel the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to provide details about the agency's relationship with the financial industry and its efforts to block municipalities from using eminent domain to prevent foreclosures.

Banks have foreclosed on millions of homes, and vast numbers of homeowners remain at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure because their mortgages are "underwater," meaning homeowners owe more than their properties are now worth. Communities with large African-American and Latino populations such as Richmond, Calif., and Irvington, N.J., have been particularly hard hit.

"For years, communities of color across the nation were targeted by banks peddling subprime toxic mortgages, greatly contributing to the current foreclosure crisis," said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "Now communities are responding by considering novel approaches to help save their neighborhoods. Municipalities should be able to consider all of their options."

[...]

The complaint, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, et al. v. Federal Housing Finance Agency, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It was brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of New Jersey, and the Center for Popular Democracy on behalf of a number of community groups across the country.

Visit ACLU for more.

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December 6, 2013 12:58 PM

From Courthouse News Service: SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - The CIA properly handled a man's demand for records on his 1966 interrogation regarding telepathy and espionage, a federal judge ruled.

Phillip Mosier had sued the agency in San Francisco under the Freedom of Information Act last year, but his case was removed this past April to the Eastern District of California.

The complaint is sparse on details about the nature of the CIA's alleged interview with him nearly 50 years ago in Lebanon, Mo.

Visit Courthouse News Service for more.

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December 6, 2013 12:54 PM

From Reuters: Dec 5 (Reuters) - A long-running battle over whether the top U.S. securities regulator should release records about its supervision of Wall Street's arbitration process is about to go another round, this time with input from a vocal consumer advocate.

For nearly four years, a group of lawyers has been pushing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to release documents about its oversight over how the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority selects arbitrators who hear legal disputes between brokerages and investors.

Visit Reuters for more.

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December 3, 2013 12:30 PM

From MuckRock: MuckRock is in the middle a massive project looking into Edward Snowden's former employer, mega-contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. After reviewing some redactions from responsive contracts received from the FCC, MuckRock's Michael Morisy was curious about the consultation process on exemption 4 (trade secrets) redactions. So he filed another FOIA for processing notes and emails.

The back-and-forth between the FCC and Booz Allen Hamilton is both instructive and potentially redemptive of the FCC. Their lawyers give Booz Allen Hamilton legal considerable deference and a generous amount of time to review responsive records, but ultimately release the documents as required even without their final go-ahead since Booz Allen Hamilton took too long to respond.

Visit MuckRock for more.

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December 3, 2013 12:09 PM

From NFOIC: COLUMBIA, Mo -- If President Obama and leaders in Congress are serious about strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), they would do well to strip away some of the discretion agencies have to determine which requesters seek information "in the public interest “ and are “likely to contribute significantly to public understanding."

In a well-written and well-documented report in Newsweek called entitled “Muzzling the Freedom of Information Act,” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist/author David Cay Johnston reveals trends and tendencies that are making it more expensive for authors, editors, producers, writers, and publishers to uncover government secret.

Much of it has to do with so-called “fee waivers.” Regular users, specialists and advocates for more transparency say government agencies are becoming more stingy with them, applying new criteria and standards for when public records sought under FOIA may be produced at no or minimal costs.

Under a 2007 law, news media representatives or any person gathering information to produce “distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience” should not be charged so-called search fees for find records and documents responsive to public information requests.

But recent interpretations, that can represent the difference of thousands of dollars in so-called search fees, include federal agencies denying fee waivers to book authors on grounds that theirs is a commercial enterprise and also issuing denials to freelancers and small publications on grounds their audience is insignificant.

Read more from Newsweek:

http://bit.ly/1fWhxmw

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November 26, 2013 3:31 PM

From PC World: The Federal Bureau of Investigation should make public a legal opinion it used to justify a past telephone records surveillance program because other agencies may still be relying on the document for surveillance justifications, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in court Tuesday.

EFF lawyer Mark Rumold asked a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the FBI to disclose a 2010 legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, telling the judges that the OLC report amounts to final policy that agencies are required to disclose under open-records law. The EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the OLC opinion in February 2011 and later filed a lawsuit after the DOJ rejected its request.

Visit PC World for more.

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November 25, 2013 4:09 PM

From Delmarva Public Radio: Since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information about the agency's intelligence-gathering activities last summer, the NSA has been bombarded with requests for its records.

USA Today this week said the agency received more than 2,500 requests for records from July to September, compared to about 250 from January to March.

"The largest percentage of requests being received is from individuals wanting to know if NSA has collected their information as part of its intelligence mission," Pamela Phillips, the NSA's public liaison officer, tells NPR.

Visit Delmarva Public Radio for more.

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November 15, 2013 1:05 PM

From The Washington Post: In his first inaugural address, President Obama said that “those of us who manage the public’s dollars” will “do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

And he issued a memo to all department and agency heads instructing them that “my administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

But maybe the message hasn’t quite sunk in everywhere.

Take, for example, the tussle ProPublica, the online investigative organization, has been having with the State Department over a list of maybe 100 “special government employees” (SGE) working there. (SGEs were created 50 years ago so experts with outside jobs could work part-time in government — with or without pay.)

Visit The Washington Post for more.

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November 15, 2013 1:03 PM

From Accounting Web: The congressional committees investigating the Tea Party scandal – including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Darrell Issa (R-CA) – aren't the only ones trying to get their hands on sensitive IRS documents. In response to a lawsuit initiated by Tax Analysts, a nonprofit publisher of tax information and expert analysis, the IRS has released almost 3,000 pages of training materials used by its Exempt Organizations (EO) division, most of them dating from 2012.

It's a big slice of the pie, but not the whole enchilada, of what Tax Analysts hopes to receive from the request it made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The materials are expected to shed some light on the methods the IRS used to target the tax-exempt applications of conservative groups for extra scrutiny. It could be the match that lit the fire that has scorched the IRS these past few months.

Visit Accounting Web for more.

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November 15, 2013 12:59 PM

From Huffington Post: The FBI is going long to keep its secret files on animal rights activists a secret: It is fighting public records requests about why it keeps denying public records requests.

It's a deeply meta strategy that's also like the set-up for an Abbott and Costello routine -- but to Ryan Shapiro, the MIT doctoral candidate profiled in Mother Jones on Wednesday as "the punk rocker who can liberate your FBI file," it's nothing new.

For years, Shapiro and the agency have engaged in a tug-of-war over how many records the FBI will release to enable his academic research on the history of the animal rights movement. Since 2010, Shapiro has barraged the agency with records requests. He says he now has roughly 600 records requests open and is fighting for the release of 350,000 pages of files -- which likely makes him the agency's most prolific requester (or tormentor).

Visit Huffington Post for more.

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