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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January 9, 2012 1:57 PM

From The FOIA Ombudsman:

Consider this: a multi-agency FOIA portal that automates FOIA processing and reporting, stores FOIA requests and responses in a repository and keeps records electronically. Not to mention allows requesters to submit requests to fewer government websites, track the status of requests and find, view and download FOIA requests and agency responses, all in a secure online environment.

Sound like a dream? It was. Now it’s becoming reality, thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Commerce and OGIS’s parent agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). If all goes as planned, the project goes live this fall. Agency FOIA professionals can get a first look this month.

First, a little history. More than a year ago, EPA began looking at the feasibility of such a portal. The agency administers Regulations.gov, the Federal rulemaking portal that allows people to comment on Federal regs and other agency actions. Why not, the agency thought, retool the regulations.gov infrastructure for handling FOIA requests?

Commerce and NARA, through OGIS, jumped aboard from the start, forming a multi-agency partnership last fall. More recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs has expressed interest in joining.

January 9, 2012 11:38 AM

From Poynter:

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in what could be a pivotal First Amendment case: the FCC v. Fox. What the Court decides will affect what we see on TV and hear on radio for years to come.

It is an important lawsuit that revolves around the Federal Communication Commission’s attempt to enforce new regulations that even “fleeting” obscenities that occur on the air, in live coverage, for example, could result in severe penalties and fines. The case has attracted amicus briefs comments from networks, professional journalism organizations including RTDNA and NAB, 11 state broadcasting associations [PDF], public broadcasters and many more.

The post quotes from a 2011 FOIA litigation survey conducted by NFOIC.

January 6, 2012 1:42 PM

A few open government and FOIA news items from the last couple days that we might not have drawn attention to earlier:

Expert: Anaheim records policy violates state law

The Anaheim Planning Department's records retention policy violates state law by asking employees to purge certain city records before they are old enough to be legally destroyed, Voice of OC's open-government consultant, Terry Francke, said Wednesday.

[...]

"What the city is doing is administratively opting out of compliance with state law," said Francke, who is general counsel for the First Amendment advocacy group Californians Aware.

Visit Voice of OC for the rest.

Illinois state senator seeks inquiry into connections to state leases

A state senator wants Illinois government to probe its leases of buildings connected to Springfield businessman and Republican fundraiser William Cellini, who was convicted of corruption in November.

Visit State Journal-Register for the rest.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims not supported by evidence

Syracuse, N.Y. — Case-by-case records provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that many fewer individuals were apprehended, deported or detained by the agency than were claimed in its official statements — congressional testimony, press releases, and the agency's latest 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

The ICE data was provided to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University in late December, almost two years — 582 days — after TRAC had requested it on May 17, 2010.

Visit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse for the rest.

Sherwood City (Ark.) Council members insist resolution did not violate FOIA

Sherwood City Council members deny violating the Freedom of Information Act regarding a controversial resolution condemning the mayor for not telling aldermen the city had received results of a $32,875 feasibility study concerning impact fees for builders.

According to the FOIA handbook, “A quorum of the governing body need not be present for the meeting to be subject to the FOIA. If two members meet informally to discuss past or pending business, that meeting may be subject to the FOIA.”

Visit Arkansas Leader for the rest.

January 6, 2012 11:47 AM

From Wired:

Three WikiLeaks supporters have lost their bid to protect their Twitter records from U.S. investigators trying to prosecute the whistleblowing site over its publication of secret and sensitive government documents.

[...]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union had sought to fight the Twitter order, arguing in part that it violated the account holders’ First Amendment rights.

January 6, 2012 11:43 AM

From FierceGovernmentIT:

NASA is expanding its open government efforts with the addition of yet another site to the open.nasa.gov family of websites. Code.nasa.gov launched in "early alpha" Jan. 4 with a focus on providing access to current NASA open source projects, a guide to NASA's open source release process and a forthcoming forum tool for project collaboration.

"We hope to lower the barriers to building open technology in partnership with the public," wrote William Eshagh, one of the open.nasa.gov blog authors.

January 6, 2012 11:38 AM

From Tech Week Europe:

Freedom of Information requests submitted via Twitter should be treated like any other, says the Information Commissioner’s Office in its July newsletter.

As long as the requester’s real name is used then the request is valid and should be responded to within 20 days as required by the Freedom of Information Actm, the ICO has said. The real name does not necessarily need to be the twitter user name and can be included in the account’s profile, said the ICO newsletter.

January 6, 2012 11:31 AM

From lohud.com:

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday that requires state and local governments to post materials online before a meeting, or provide copies before or at the meeting when possible.

The new law applies to records scheduled to be discussed during an open meeting, including proposed resolutions, laws, rules, policies and amendments.

January 5, 2012 4:26 PM

From Herald-Tribune:

SARASOTA - Computer forensic expert John Jorgensen met with Mayor Suzanne Atwell at 10:30 this morning to brief her about accusations that public records were erased from the computers of three high-ranking city employees.

Jorgensen, hired to analyze the computers of City Manager Bob Bartolotta, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown, and internal auditor Heather Riti, has warned City Hall that he has "substantial reason to believe" city officials may have violated the law.

January 5, 2012 2:43 PM

From Seattle Weekly:

The dashcam video—once sparse, now widespread—is the new vulnerability for police officers who go too far. Once entered into a court record and made public (or leaked to the media), videos become the measure by which the average TV and online viewer judges, rightly or wrongly, the Seattle Police Department. Their release is something SPD would prefer to avoid. That seems the more likely reason why City Hall is suing James Egan for asking to see cops on film.

This draconian reaction—hauled to court by the government for requesting public records—is the work of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. He says he's seeking "guidance" from the courts, arguing that the videos taken by public servants in public places is somehow private information.

See more from KOMO News.

January 5, 2012 2:01 PM

From OpenTheGovernment.org:

A recent report [OpenTheGovernment.org] released with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) used data collected annually by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in agencies’ reports on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing. This data is supposed to allow the public to assess the effect of the Obama Administration's FOIA policy on agency practice. Unfortunately, though, [they] were only able to come up with a partial answer to the question of whether or not agencies are following the Administration's policy.

On his first day in office President Obama committed his Administration to creating an "unprecedented level of openness in Government." As part of his effort to open government, President Obama directed agencies that FOIA "should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails." Attorney General Holder echoed these words in his March 2009 memo. The Obama Administration policy is in stark contrast to [the October, 2001] policy under the Bush Administration (PDF), which urged agencies to withhold information in the face of doubt.

[...]

Whether or not agencies are following the Administration's policy is not just a matter of interest to a couple of good government organizations: Part of Congress' job is to oversee how agencies are fulfilling their duties under laws like FOIA; journalists, researchers, advocates and any member of the public who is simply interested in knowing what the government knows about something all have an interest in how well agencies respond to their requests for information.

Visit OpenTheGovernment.org for more and links to the report.

January 5, 2012 11:00 AM

from govfresh:

With the growth of the open government movement and more and more governments embracing open data, we see an increasing number of useful civic applications being developed.  Every weekend hackathon spawns multiple projects that could potentially live on as a successful venture or company.

Some hackathons are specifically geared toward producing viable companies – this is exactly the approach that was taken at last November’s “Education Hack Day” in Baltimore.  At that event, the idea was to set up winners with as much expert advice and opportunity as possible to launch a business around their weekend project to help teachers.

January 5, 2012 10:57 AM

From Voice of OC:

While cities like Costa Mesa and Santa Ana consider outsourcing numerous city services to the private sector, open-government advocates say that unless cities require companies to disclose records related to those services, members of public wouldn't be entitled to them under state law.

"The public is entitled to have access to relevant information … about a corporation's performance of these previously governmental functions," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

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