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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May 31, 2012 10:43 AM

Opinion from Lawfare Blog:

Both the NYT Becker-Shane “Kill List” story and the Klaidman book excerpt have implications for the pending ACLU FOIA suit in CADC, which seeks CIA records on CIA drone strikes.  (It also has implications for the broader ACLU FOIA case in SDNY, but I set those aside here.)  The story and the excerpt are based on interviews with dozens of current and former Obama advisors.  They contain fine-grained details about the CIA’s involvement in drone strikes, internal USG processes and deliberations concerning the CIA strikes, internal USG criticisms and defenses of the CIA strikes, and the consequences of the CIA strikes.

At the same time that many officials are talking to Becker and Shane and Klaidman about the CIA drone strikes in the hope that the journalists will report what they say, the USG maintains that the CIA can neither confirm nor deny that it has responsive records about its involvement in drone strikes.  The USG’s position is that such a Glomar response is appropriate because there has been no official acknowledgment of CIA involvement in drone strikes, and “whether or not the CIA was involved in drone strike operations . . . is a classified fact.”  (Note that some of the dozens of officials who spoke to Becker and Shane and Klaidman talked about this classified fact and thus probably violated the law.  I continue to be surprised, obviously naively so, that some officials leak classified information practically openly while the government is prosecuting other officials for violating classified information disclosure rules.)

May 31, 2012 10:39 AM

From Ars Technica:

Have you ever wanted a mobile app that ties your location to crime statistics, government environmental and health data, and weather and solar flare data to calculate the hourly probability of a zombie apocalypse?  While that may not be exactly what the White House has in mind, it’s the sort of mobile mash-up that a new Federal IT policy could make a lot less difficult to create. The Obama administration has added another twist on “open government”—open, as in open API.

On May 23, the White House issued a directive that requires all agencies to establish programming interfaces for internal and external developers to use, and make “applicable Government information open and machine-readable by default.” As part of an effort to push government toward a cloud-computing future, the White House is encouraging agencies to make their data more developer friendly, and to create a shared platform for providing mobile access to data for both citizens and government employees. And they have 12 months to start delivering.

May 31, 2012 10:35 AM

From NorthJersey.com:

The Allendale Mayor and Council has joined the League of Municipalities in passing a resolution opposing legislation that would reform and modernize laws that allow the public to have prior notice of meetings and have access to government documents, based on what the municipality has said are "costly unfunded mandates" and releases information "residents would expect to remain confidential."

[...]

Several municipalities have expressed concerns with the requirements and say it would be a "cost-driver" for local and state government and would "make government less effective."

May 31, 2012 10:31 AM

From Orlando Sentinel:

A political activist who's repeatedly asked Sanford to produce public records in the Trayvon Martin shooting – especially police-made videos – on Wednesday sued the city, accusing it of willfully violating the state's public records act.

[...]

Although more than a month has now passed, he has not received the records, according to his attorney, Lawrence G. Walters of Longwood, nor has he been given a written reason, explaining why they're exempt from public disclosure.

From the Miami Herald:

Ken Bunting, the executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said the quest to keep information from the media is ironic, given that it was media interest in the case that caused law enforcement to take a second look at the investigation.

"I think it's overreaching," Bunting said. "I know it's fashionable to demonize the media, especially in high-profile cases like this, but nothing does more to ensure a fair trial and the fair administration of justice than sunshine itself. Excessive secrecy is never the right answer."

May 31, 2012 10:24 AM

From Multichannel News:

A random sampling of cable operators will be receiving survey forms from the Federal Communications Commission and have until July 27 to supply cable service and equipment pricing information.

[...]

In addition to being published in aggregate form, the information is also subject to FOIA requests, so the FCC advises operators that if they want to keep it confidential, they need to ask for it in writing and need to explain why it is necessary.

May 30, 2012 9:28 AM

From Truthout.org:

My FOIA request was filed in May 2011. The FBI sent me a letter saying they were processing my request. Then, last August, the bureau sent out a special agent from the FBI's Tampa field office to speak with Hesham about my FOIA.

Bill Tidwell showed up at the home of Hesham and Jody Abu Zubaidah, his wife, on the morning of August 26, 2011. Hesham was at work. Jody's mother, who was living with the couple at the time, answered the knock at the door. She told Jody there was "some guy in a suit at the front door."

May 29, 2012 9:38 AM

From The Columbus Dispatch:

When school districts withhold public records, taxpayers don’t know what pay raises teachers will get until it’s a done deal, or how much a superintendent will be paid until the ink has dried on a new, multiyear agreement.

[...]

Leaders of some school associations say that there might be confusion over the law and that not every question about public records has been answered by courts. But legal experts say that, in recent cases, schools clearly should have provided the records they withheld.

May 29, 2012 9:31 AM

From Northwest Herald:

Two bills aimed at improving Illinois residents’ right to know – both of which were fought by local government lobbyists – are on their way to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The General Assembly last week passed a bill requiring adding municipal, county and township employee salaries to the searchable state database and a bill aimed at improving meeting agendas.

May 29, 2012 9:29 AM

Opinion from Quad-City Times Executive Editor Jan Touney:

A story on Page A1 ... details efforts by the Quad-City Times and The Gazette of Cedar Rapids to make public the name of an eastern Iowa business investigated in connection with a March outbreak of norovirus.

Several Quad-City area families sickened by the virus contacted us and were referred by Scott County health officials to the Johnson County Health Department in late March. We followed up, pursuing public records to confirm the account.

But officials whited out any reference to the name of the business, even the dates of the complaints.

May 29, 2012 9:23 AM

From WickedLocal:

BOSTON — Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office has issued an emergency regulation that clarifies the Open Meeting Law regulations that explain how authorities can restrict the use of remote participation by members of public bodies.

“Through questions asked of our office, we realized that there is currently considerable confusion about who may impose additional restrictions on public bodies’ use of remote participation, and what form those restrictions may take,” said Coakley. “Many communities are still considering whether and how to adopt the practice of remote participation, so we felt it was important to clarify this aspect of the law immediately."

May 25, 2012 1:49 PM

A few national and state FOIA and open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week:

ACLU sues DOJ for digital surveillance data

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department Wednesday to compel the release of electronic surveillance data dating back to 2010. In the original FOIA request, dated Feb. 15, 2012, the ACLU requested data on pen register and trap and trace devices. Pen registers record all numbers called from a particular phone, according to the suit, which was filed Wednesday in the District Court of Southern New York. Trap and trace devices allow recording of”non-content” information on a particular communications line, such as “to” and “from” lines of emails and IP addresses of websites visited.

Visit Main Justice for the rest.

In California, progress on a bill to open government records

Legislation that would require all California government agencies to make public records available in an "open" format moved forward on Thursday after activists rallied to persuade the state's Senate Appropriations Committee that the requirement would not burden those agencies with millions of dollars in new obligations.

Visit TechPresident for the rest.

Media outlets, open government groups file amicus curiae briefs in support of lawsuit to obtain White House visitor logs

Judicial Watch announced that major mainstream media outlets and open government organizations have joined its legal campaign against the Obama Secret Service to force the release of White House visitor logs. On August 17, Obama-appointed federal Judge Beryl Howell ruled against the Obama administration that Secret Service White House visitor logs are agency records that are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Obama administration appealed that decision and the lawsuit is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Secret Service (No. 11-5282)).

Visit MarketWatch for the rest.

Town Council members issue FOIA request on New Canaan school budget

Town Council members John Emert and Roger Williams believe they have not been given enough detailed information on the $74 million school budget, which the council passed unanimously on April 17. They're hoping they can obtain the information they're looking for through the Freedom of Information Act.

Visit Acorn-Online for the rest.

WH leaks for propaganda film

As is now well documented, the Obama administration has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, prosecuting more of them under espionage statutes than all prior administrations combined: twice as many as all prior administrations combined, in fact. They are attempting, or have attempted, to imprison whistleblowers who exposed corrupt and illegal NSA eavesdropping, dangerously inept efforts to impede Iran’s nuclear program (which likely strengthened it), the destructive uses of torture, and a litany of previously unknown U.S.-caused civilian deaths and other American war crimes.

Visit Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com for the rest.

 

4 Western US states shielding part of executions

BOISE, Idaho — A San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled in 2002 that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses, from the moment the condemned enters the death chamber to his or her final heartbeat. The ruling established what was expected of the nine Western states within the court's jurisdiction. A decade later, four of the states have kept part of each execution away from public view, according to an Associated Press review and death penalty experts.

Visit The Observer-Dispatch for the rest.

Survey shows Nevada politicos support more open government

CARSON CITY, Nev. — There's strong support among Nevada political candidates to require regular reporting by lobbyists of how much they spend wining, dining and schmoozing state lawmakers, according to a new survey released Wednesday. The survey conducted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Nevada Press Association also found that many favor penalties for public record law violations and making the Legislature subject to Nevada's open meeting law.

Visit nola.com for the rest.

2nd Circuit upholds FOIA exemption for CIA waterboarding records

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling exempting the CIA's waterboarding records and a photograph of Abu Zubaydah during his interrogation from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. In its ruling (PDF), the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the act shields such classified material from public view even though President Barack Obama has declared the practice of waterboarding illegal, the New York Law Journal reports.

Visit ABA Journal for the rest.

Foundation at University of Iowa refuses request for records

The University of Iowa Foundation says its emails and expense records are not subject to disclosure under the state’s open-records law, a position that appears to conflict with a 2005 Iowa Supreme Court ruling. The foundation, which maintains $1.1 billion in assets to benefit the university, has rejected The Des Moines Register’s request for emails between its staff and university officials, saying it does “not plan on directly responding” to the request.

Visit DesMoinesRegister.com for the rest.

May 25, 2012 8:27 AM

From Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, The Journal Gazette:

INDIANA — While some other states such as Wisconsin and Florida have a culture of government openness, the opposite has long been true in Indiana, though there are some encouraging signs of change. When government officials attend seminars to learn about Indiana laws governing open meetings and open records, they too often come away focusing on the law’s exemptions — in other words, how to keep stuff secret.

Even the term “executive session” seeks to put a positive spin on hiding information from the public, implying executives — important people — need to talk about their plans in private. A more accurate term would be “closed meeting” or “secret session.”

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