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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March 30, 2012 2:59 PM

From StateIntegrity.org

Delaware is the latest state to take action on improving its Corruption Risk Report Card grade. With a C- overall grade, Delaware ranked 22nd out of 50 states in the State Integrity Investigation. The overall score was hurt badly by the lack of effective laws and practices governing lobbying activity: Delaware's 43 percent 'F' grade on the lobbying disclosure category was fourth-worst in the nation.

March 30, 2012 2:56 PM

From RCFP

A Pennsylvania appellate court ruled on Tuesday that the state Department of Transportation must release records on speed enforcement devices used by state police agencies in full – without any redactions – under the state's Right-to-Know Law to an engineer whose speeding ticket sparked the requests.

March 30, 2012 2:52 PM

From Kentucky Open Government Blog

A bill opposed by the Kentucky Press Association that could increase secrecy at the Cabinet for Health and Family Servicesdied in a Senate committee on Tuesday then was revived minutes later in the House of Representatives.

March 30, 2012 2:48 PM

From Franczek Radelet

The Attorney General recently issued an opinion that reinforces the risks associated with public officials’ use of personal electronic devices and e-mail accounts to conduct public business.  In the opinion, the Attorney General held that electronic records relating to the transaction of public business are “public records” subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even if they are generated on a public official’s personal electronic device or e-mail account.  The implications of the opinion are significant because of the logistical hurdles, costs associated with searches of such technology, and potential privacy issues.  Public bodies may wish to adopt policies and procedures to avoid some of those implications.

March 30, 2012 2:45 PM

From California Watch

Biotech companies with operations in California – the birthplace of the industry and home to one-third of the country’s biotech firms – spent $40 million on federal lobbying between 2009 and 2011, according to an analysis released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Center for Responsive Politics.

March 30, 2012 2:44 PM

From Detroit Free Press

On Jan. 24-25, 2008, Detroit Free Press investigative reporters Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick revealed that Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, had had an affair and lied about it under oath in a police whistle-blower lawsuit. The mayor agreed to a secret deal to settle the lawsuit for more than $9 million in order to keep private revealing text messages between them. After months of court battles to keep the messages and secret settlement documents from the public eye, Kilpatrick pleaded guilty in September to two felonies and is now serving 120 days in jail. Beatty pleaded guilty to two felonies in December and will be sentenced to 120 days in jail on Jan. 5, 2009.

March 30, 2012 2:32 PM

A few open government and FOIA news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier.

Text messages enter public-records debate

Those supposedly private messages that public officials dash off on their government cellphones to friends and colleagues aren't necessarily private after all.

Courts, lawyers and states are increasingly treating these typed text messages as public documents subject to the same disclosure laws — including the federal Freedom of Information Act — that apply to e-mails and paper records.

Visit USA Today for the rest.

Judge calls for near-complete release of UC pepper-spray report

OAKLAND — A judge Wednesday rejected nearly all attempts by a campus police union to block release of portions of a report on the November pepper-spraying of UC Davis students by university officers.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed with assertions that large chunks of the report — designed to scrutinize the day's events and craft new policy — should be sealed because they contain the same kind of information as in officer personnel files compiled for disciplinary purposes. He also rejected union arguments that officers named in the report have a constitutional right to privacy.

Visit LA Times for the rest.

Justice accused of hindering multi-agency FOIA website

Open government watchdog groups are calling upon the White House to help resolve an apparent power struggle between the Justice Department and three other federal agencies over the creation of new websites for consolidating Freedom of Information Act requests and information.

The tussle is over FOIA.gov, recently created by Justice, and a new FOIA Web portal being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency with assistance from the Commerce Department and the National Archives & Records Administration.

Visit Federal Computer Week for the rest.

FDA Gets High Marks for FOIA Request Transparency

A report by the House Oversight Committee has found many federal agencies to be deficient when it comes to tracking basic information regarding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, including the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Visit Regulatory Focus for the rest.

Bush and Cheney Are for Snooping In Everyone’s Library Records But Theirs

Libraries, you will recall, are playgrounds for terrorists—which is why George W. Bush and Dick Cheney made sure the that PATRIOT Act empowered the FBI to rummage through library records with impunity and without a warrant, confidentiality be damned. But now that there's a lawsuit seeking records from their presidential libraries, Bush and Cheney are hiding behind the Librarian's Code.

Visit Gawker for the rest.

CIA Withholds Documents Using Legal Exemption It Does Not Have Authority to Apply

For the past eight years, the CIA has used an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that "protects intelligence sources and methods" to justify the withholding of certain records from requesters.

But a federal lawsuit filed against the CIA charges that the agency does not have the authority to deny records under what is known as a (b)(3) exemption unless the Director of the CIA consulted with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and received specific authorization in each instance it had denied records under that rule, which it apparently has not done.

Visit TruthOut for the rest.

Records used in other states to uncover cheating on tests not open in Texas

While other states are finding evidence of school test score manipulation, the Texas Education Agency has managed to quash open records requests that would allow the public to investigate such a thing in this state.

Visit Texas Watchdog for the rest.

R text messages a loophole in Florida records law?

Florida public records laws are often called among the toughest in the nation. But that was b4 txt msging. The state updated its public records rules last year to advise that text messages, Facebook comments, Tweets and other communications on "emerging communications technologies'' might be public records, depending on their content.

Visit Orlando Sentinel for the rest.

March 29, 2012 1:30 AM

From Federal Computer Week

The Justice Department says it supports a multi-agency effort to create an online portal for Freedom of Information Act requests.

A department spokeswoman issued a statement on March 27 in response to a story published the previous day which reported on allegations from watchdog groups that the department was hindering the effort. The groups said DOJ was suspected of discouraging other agencies from participating in the FOIA Web portal development project led by the Environmental Protection Agency.

March 29, 2012 1:30 AM

From Truth-Out.org

The Occupy Wall Street Homeland Security FOIA documents are now available for download courtesy of Truth-Out.org.

March 29, 2012 1:29 AM

From Open NDAA

Imagine that someone is put in charge of your personal budget, and authorizes all of your spending money for food, clothes, rent and fun. Now, imagine that person decides your budget in secret, without taking any input from you. Sounds like a terrible idea, right?

Well, that’s exactly what the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is doing with taxpayer dollars by marking up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in secret. The NDAA is a bill that last year authorized more than $662 billion in spending—primarily for the Department of Defense. It is one of the few bills that is passed annually, and therefore has become a magnet for other proposals.

March 29, 2012 1:28 AM

From NextGov

The Obama administration takes petitions posted to its We the People website seriously and during weekly meetings discusses responses to those that cross the 25,000-signature threshold, officials said in a response and video posted Thursday.

The White House launched We the People in September, touting it as a one-stop shop for citizens to petition the federal government and as part of the Obama administration's larger commitment to open government.

March 29, 2012 1:28 AM

From GPB News

ATLANTA—State lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that would introduce the first major changes to the state’s open meetings and records act in a decade. It would stiffen penalties for agencies that withhold open records and boards that hold meetings in secret.

Under the bill, fines for violations of the open meetings and records law would increase. For example, agencies that don’t hand over public records would face fines of $1,000, rather than $100.

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