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 31, 2011 12:46 PM

August 31, 2011

From thesouthern.com:

CHICAGO - Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation that allows the state more time to respond to Freedom of Information Act from so-called ``recurrent requesters.''

Quinn's office says the Illinois governor signed the measure into law Friday and it takes effect immediately. The law also allows government entities to charge for the actual costs of retrieving information.

Visit thesouthern.com for the rest of the story.

August 31, 2011 12:34 PM

From Statesman Journal:

A[n] [Oregon] state government website is one of three nominated in its category for recognition by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

The organization has nominated data.oregon.gov as one of three finalists in the open government category. The site allows users to browse, search and save their own data sets. Others nominated in this category were from New Jersey and North Carolina.

Visit StatesmanJournal.com for the rest of the story.

August 26, 2011 2:31 PM

A few items selected from many of interest in the last few days.

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Dem. lawmaker proposes repeal of Legislative Open Records Act

From Los Angeles Times Blog:

A Democratic legislator has proposed repealing a long-standing law that government watchdogs have argued protects the Legislature from public disclosure.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill Thursday that would effectively gut the Legislative Open Records Act, eliminating special legal exemptions that lawmakers carved out for themselves decades ago so they would not have to operate with the same level of transparency required of almost everyone else in government.

Visit PolitiCal for the rest.

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SPJ supports Chicago Tribune in freedom of information case

From Society of Professional Journalists:

INDIANAPOLIS—The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief challenging the University of Illinois Board of Trustees’ attempt to conceal records involving preferential treatment of well-connected applicants to the state university system.

The brief was filed Friday (August 19) in support of the Chicago Tribune Co. after the Board of Trustees appealed a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois requiring disclosure of the material. The University maintains that the records are protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which was established to shield student academic records from public view for privacy reasons. However, since it was enacted, the law has been widely abused to shield information about everything from disciplinary proceedings for serious crimes to parking tickets.

Visit SPJ.org for the rest.

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Impact of Gulf spill’s underwater dispersants Is examined

From New York Times Blog:

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP sought and obtained permission to use dispersants [Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527], detergent-like compounds, to break up the 200 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude, into tiny droplets that would mix throughout the water column, trying to lessen the immediate impact of the oil slick on fragile coastal ecosystems.

[...]

As the situation in the Gulf worsened and questions about the safety of Corexit spread like, well, leaking oil, Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information about the composition and safety of the dispersants listed as eligible for use. When the federal agency did not comply, Earthjustice sued on behalf of the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Visit Green Blog for the rest.

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Gov. Rick Scott's lost emails dim right to know

Opinion from Orlando Sentinel:

So far, news that emails from Gov. Rick Scott's transition got deleted hasn't fueled much outrage. After all, why care about electronic messages that disappeared from the time between the new governor's election and inauguration?

Here's why: During transitions, governors begin setting the agendas for their terms, start hiring the people to carry them out, and solidify their alliances with special interests. It's no wonder that Florida's government-in-the-sunshine law requires that any records from transitions be preserved and made available to the public. State archives include transition records dating back decades.

Visit OrlandoSentinel.com for the rest.

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August 26, 2011 1:54 PM

Friday, August 26, 2011 -- From American University Washington College of Law:

In a development that barely could have been envisioned by the authors of the Freedom of Information Act four decades ago, and with a force that has been accelerating around the globe, people in more than 85 nations of the world now enjoy the benefits of "government transparency" laws akin to the FOIA.

In the United States, "Freedom of Information Day" is celebrated each year on or near March 16 (the birthday of James Madison), and now since 2002 members of the international transparency community around the world likewise have celebrated "International Right-to-Know Day" annually on September 28, a day marking their progress, commitment, and unity of purpose.

Visit American University Washington College of Law for agenda and registration.

August 26, 2011 1:45 PM

Friday, August 26, 2011 -- Opinion from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times Blog:

Gov. Rick Scott's magically deleted email debacle is starting to sound a bit ridiculous already, even though he's ordered an "investigation" by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

As you may recall, St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald capitol reporter Michael C. Bender went looking for some emails from the governor and his transition team while Scott was Florida's governor-elect and was told on August 18 that the emails he'd requested months ago were deleted in April.

Visit The Pulp for the rest of the opinon.

August 26, 2011 8:00 AM

From the ACLU:

NEW YORK (August 25, 2011) – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit challenging the government’s failure to release documents about the FBI’s nationwide system of collecting and sharing so-called "Suspicious Activity Reports" from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The lawsuit seeks information about the nationwide eGuardian program, launched in 2009, which allows the FBI to collect information about vague and expansively defined "suspicious activity" from law enforcement and intelligence officials across the country, as well as from the public. The program appears to give broad discretion to law enforcement officials to monitor and collect information about innocent people engaged in commonplace activities, and to store that data in criminal intelligence files without any evidence of wrongdoing. There are also serious concerns that the system opens the door to racial profiling and other improper practices.

Visit ACLU.org for the rest of the story.

August 24, 2011 9:09 AM

COLUMBIA, Mo. (August 23, 2011) — While a lack of resources has made news organizations increasingly less inclined to file freedom of information lawsuits, citizens have a growing interest in government transparency and are becoming more active in asserting their right to government information.

The rise of citizen interest and the decline of newsroom aggressiveness are among the findings of an informal open government status study by the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).

Highlighting a trend identified in an earlier assessment, the companion surveys by the two groups show that news organizations, hampered primarily by a lack of resources, are increasingly less inclined to bring lawsuits to enforce compliance under state and federal freedom of information laws.

The online surveys, conducted between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15, are a reprise of a 2009 study, and their findings mirror some of the trends identified then. The 2009 study was part of the inspiration for the creation of the Knight FOI Fund, which provides funding to cover upfront expenses and fees for meritorious access and transparency lawsuits, and is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Read the whole release on the new open government survey here.

August 22, 2011 10:26 AM

Journal Times (Racine, WI) received grant from Knight FOI Fund to pursue meetings records and correspondence.

From editor Steve Lovejoy of the Journal Times:

The abrupt firing of the Mount Pleasant (WI) village administrator last spring raised many questions in the community over the reasons for the village board's actions and whether the board had been diligent in its oversight of that position and the operations of village hall.

We believed at the time that Village President Carolyn Milkie and the board owed the public an explanation of their decision so that the public could judge whether they had acted properly and also to reassure village residents that they were doing their jobs in a responsible manner. Regrettably, Milkie and the board declined to explain the firing and refused to release the complaint from former village clerk/treasurer Juliet Edmands that ignited the situation.

That flies in the face of Wisconsin law which dictates that government should operate as much as possible in the open.

The Journal Times filed suit and this week prevailed in its efforts to provide Mount Pleasant residents with the information on what happened so that they can assess the actions of their elected officials and judge whether they acted appropriately.

Story timeline:

  • June 15: The Journal Times files a lawsuit against the village and Milkie as its president for allegedly violating the open records law by withholding the requested correspondence and failing to provide proper reasons for the denial. The Journal Times later received a $500 grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition in support of the investigation.
  • Aug. 3: The Journal Times amends its suit to include a request for police records regarding allegations against Andreasen.
  • Aug. 17: Requested documents are released with alleged victim information blacked out as per a settlement reached with the village and its insurance company agrees to pay $5,000 for The Journal Times' suit costs, according to attorneys.

For more of the story, see:
A note to readers (from Journal Times editor Steve Lovejoy)
Reports: Trustees ignored Village Hall complaints
Secret records allege abuse at Mount Pleasant Village Hall
Mount Pleasant residents tell Village Board they want to see more open government

August 19, 2011 2:47 PM

A few items selected from many of interest in the last few days.

Fulton County (Mo.) makes state news by prohibiting video taping of meetings

From AreaWideNews:

"I cannot, as a citizen of Fulton County, sit here and watch you violate the rights of the citizens of this county," said Nancy Cole, interrupting an Aug. 8 meeting of the Fulton County Quorum Court.

Cole's comments touched off a tense showdown over whether quorum court meetings can be video taped.

Visit AreaWideNews.com for the rest of the story.

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2011 ASAP FOIA/Privacy Act training workshop

From American Society of Access Professionals:

The American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) is an independent, educational, nonprofit association founded by concerned federal government employees and private citizens working in the fields of information access through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act, among others. ASAP was founded as a professional forum dedicated to bringing government FOIA and Privacy Act personnel in touch with the requester community, which uses the FOIA and Privacy Act. This requester community includes private citizens, law firms, businesses, media and nonprofit organizations.

All ASAP programs draw upon the highest caliber of government FOIA and Privacy instructors and speakers together with known experts in the public requester field to teach and discuss common problems in an environment where each side voices its concern in open dialogue.

Visit AccessPro.org for the rest of the story.

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Washington high court pushes open investigative records

From The Seattle Times:

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The public release of investigative records does not violate the privacy of an officer who was accused of sexual assault but never charged, Washington's Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a split decision that led only four of the nine justices to write the majority opinion, the court determined that Bainbridge Island police officer Steven Cain's identity should be redacted when the documents are released.

Visit The Seattle Times for the rest of the story.

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Remaking government in a Wiki age

From The New York Times:

Maybe we are all thinking too much like Bolsheviks and not enough like Googlers. For Lenin and the Russian revolutionaries, the big question was “Kto kogo?” — essentially, “Who has the upper hand?”

Kto kogo remains the paradigm at the center of the fiscal battles roiling the Western world: young vs. old; rich taxpayers vs. poor welfare beneficiaries; public sector workers vs. private sector ones; wealthy Northern Europe vs. bankrupt Southern Europe; small government conservatives vs. big government liberals. But a few people — writers, activists, even politicians — are examining the current woes of the Western state through a very different prism.

Visit NYTimes.com for the rest of the story.

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First Amendment Foundation offers Sunshine Law seminars

From TCPalm:

In many cases, government officials who inflate the cost of public records requests — or delay such requests, or attempt to conduct the public's business in private — aren't necessarily being malicious, secretive or incorrigible. They simply do not understand their responsibilities to the public under sunshine law.

Education is the key. Toward this objective, the First Amendment Foundation and the League of Women Voters will be offering two, one-day training seminars in our region — Sept. 26 in Orlando and Sept. 28 in West Palm Beach — on the state's open meetings and public records laws. The cost is $25 — a small price to pay to help ensure governments on the Treasure Coast are responsive to their constituents.

Visit TCPalm.com for the rest of the story.

editor's note: The First Amendment Foundation is a member of NFOIC.

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Court rules White House visitor logs subject to FOIA

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

A federal district court in Washington, D.C. held on Wednesday that White House visitor logs are agency records and therefore subject to possible disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. United States Secret Service.

Judicial Watch requested the visitor logs in August 2009, requesting all logs dating from President Obama's inauguration in January 2009 to "the present." The U.S. Secret Sevice argued that the records were not "agency records" as defined by FOIA, but records of the White House, subject to the Presidential Records Act. In addition, the Secret Service claimed that it would be "virtually impossible" for the agency to review all the records requested "without potentially compromising national security interests."

Visit RCFP.org for the rest of the story.

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Government agencies offer new tool to boost access

From The Hill:

The Government Printing Office and the National Archives’s Office of the Federal Register are introducing another technology initiative to increase public access to and transparency of regulatory information.

The offices announced on Wednesday the addition of an Application Programming Interface for FederalRegister.gov, which enables information technology developers to create new applications with information published on the site.

Visit The Hill for the rest of the story.

August 17, 2011 8:58 AM

From Eastern Iowa Government:

DES MOINES — The ACLU of Iowa is announcing the launch of its Open Government Project, which will be designed to help ordinary citizens with comprehensive help and information for using federal and state right-to-information laws.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Randall Wilson said the heart of the project is a new web site that features a “do-it-yourself” section that includes a diagram of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request process, a “how-to” on making a FOIA request, information on requesting fee waivers, instructions for an open records request, information on enforcing open government meetings, and tips for speaking at public meetings.

Visit Eastern Iowa Government for the rest of the story.

August 17, 2011 8:52 AM

From The Tennessean:

Former Tennessean editor and publisher and Chairman Emeritus John Seigenthaler was among those honored at the 2011 Freedom Awards, sponsored by the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

In honor of the museum’s 20th anniversary, the awards were expanded this year to include honors for civil rights pioneers in education, sports, humanitarianism, the arts, activism and legal justice.

Visit The Tennessean for the rest of the story.

August 17, 2011 8:48 AM

From the Hartford Courant:

Mitchell W. Pearlman, former longtime executive director of the state Freedom of Information Commission would be an ideal choice to fill the top staff job at the new Office of Governmental Accountability.

Mr. Pearlman is one of three finalists recommended to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by the heads of the agencies now incorporated under the "governmental accountability" umbrella. He has the experience and understanding of the unique missions and needs of each division that's required to help each one function effectively in its new environment.

Mr. Malloy is faced with a Sept. 1 deadline to appoint an OGA executive director who will oversee business and administrative functions of the watchdog agencies. He should name Mr. Pearlman, subject to confirmation by the legislature.

Visit courant.com for the rest of the story.

editor's note: Mr. Pearlman is a member of the board of directors of NFOIC.

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