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

April 15, 2015 1:39 PM

 A Champaign County judge has set a June hearing for a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the University of Illinois by a professor denied a job at the school.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports ( ) Champaign County Judge Thomas Difanis on Monday set a hearing for June 12. Professor Steve Salaita and his attorneys filed the lawsuit in November seeking public documents related to his case. The judge in June will rule on motions for summary judgment from both parties.

Difanis said if he doesn't grant summary judgment then he will begin hearing arguments immediately. Continue>>>

April 15, 2015 1:34 PM

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she will hold a statewide tele-town hall meeting to educate the public about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Rutledge released the following statement:

“Arkansas has a strong FOIA that is regarded across the country as one of the best at holding government accountable and helping citizens stay informed. As the people’s lawyer, I am committed to protecting the democratic ideal of an open and transparent government and helping educate Arkansans about the FOIA. I am excited to use technology in an innovative way to help bring Arkansans closer to their government.”

The statewide tele-town hall will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. For those interested in participating, please sign up by emailing with your name, telephone number and city. Continue>>>


April 15, 2015 1:31 PM

The Obama administration, which has pledged both to embrace transparency and promote scientific integrity, continues to tightly control journalists’ access to federally employed scientists, a survey of reporters found.

Nearly 59 percent of respondents “feel that the public is not getting all the information it needs because of the barriers that agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices,” according to the survey released April 9 by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Almost three quarters (74.2 percent) of the reporters said that they are required to obtain public information officers’ approval before interviewing employees at least some of the time, and 52.2 percent said that when they ask to interview a specific subject matter expert, the PIO routes their request to a different agency employee at least some of the time. In comments, reporters added that this different employee was “more likely to give the answer the agency wanted the reporter to get,” Carolyn Carlson, a member of the Freedom of Information Committee at the journalists society, told reporters at the National Press Club. Continue>>>

April 15, 2015 1:27 PM

A member of the D.C. Council is questioning plans by the Bowser Administration to keep all footage shot by D.C. police body cameras private.

The plan by Mayor Muriel Bowser's office to keep all body camera footage private first surfaced in language in her Budget Support Act.

If passed, it would keep the public and the news media from being able to request selected footage recorded by police under the Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 1:14 PM

Elliot Engstrom, of the Civitas Institute, writing for the Burlington Times News spotlights a real problem the General Assembly should address before it adjourns this year…that of open government, and more specifically the ineffective enforcement of the Public Records and Open Meetings laws. Elliot writes:

Last week, the Civitas Institute dropped our public records lawsuit against the Alamance County Board of Elections and Alamance County attorney. To the credit of the board and county attorney, the entire issue was resolved in less than four months. Unfortunately, this is lightning fast compared to the turnaround time for some state agencies.

Access to public records is a basic requirement of any democratic system. Through public records requests, North Carolina citizens can keep their elected officials accountable by keeping close tabs on the activities of state and local governments. Trust, but verify. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 1:02 PM

More calls are coming in for Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser to be fired, this time coming from the open government advocacy group Project on Government Oversight.

"Through his actions both before his appointment as IG and since, Mr. Zinser has proven that he is not fit for the position," a letter from POGO says.

The problems started in 2012 when Zinser failed to investigate charges that top officials at the National Weather Service were running illegal accounting practices. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 12:56 PM

The Department of Homeland Security has experienced a 182 percent increase in the number of requests it receives under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since President Obama first took office in 2009, according to the DHS 2014 Freedom of Information Act Report published Thursday.

The DHS says it received a record 291,242 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2014, spending about $51.5 million to process and fill them. It fully granted only 16,651 of these requests, or about 5.7 percent, partially granted another 128,603, and denied 6,212 requests, the report stated.

According to DHS, the vast majority of requests were directed to three agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – 143,794 requests; Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – 47,261 requests; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – 85,081 requests. Continue>>>


April 14, 2015 12:48 PM

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today filed an open government lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court against the Western Coventry Fire district alleging the district violated the Open Meetings Act by not timely filing meeting minutes.

The fire district posted the unofficial minutes for its Sept. 18 2014 meeting on Oct. 14 — five days after they should have posted them, the AG said in a release.

In June of 2014, the AG’s office found the district had failed to post minutes in a timely fashion seven times. At the time, officials from the district reportedly said they were unaware they were subjected to both the Open Meetings Act and the Access to Public Records ACt. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 12:22 PM

No one knows for sure whether Walter Scott was the third 2015 fatality from a police shooting or the 20th. And we should know.

But the United States has no database for police shootings, so we can’t find out .

If Mr. Scott’s shocking death is to spur a much-needed national conversation about policing, racial profiling and the use of deadly force, the big-picture number is a key piece of information. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 12:11 PM

Legislation allowing local governments to charge fees for access to public records was pulled from debate this session for summer study designed to prepare a comprehensive open records bill.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, a Bedford County Republican who sponsored the measure, took the bill off notice recently after holding several meetings with interested groups such as Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and Tennessee Press Association.

"Open records are important to me, and I want to ensure that they are readily available," Tracy said in a statement. "There are bad actors on both sides of this issue, so I was glad to have all parties at the table trying to find language that would continue to allow records to be open and ensuring that they are available in a timely and proper manner." Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:52 PM

An improving economy and better resources in the developing world may not equal a more open nation, according to the World Justice Project (WJP) in its report on open governments globally.

The inaugural WJP Open Government Index, which ranks more than a 100 countries based on how open their governments are, found evidence which suggested there is no link between GDP per capita and open government.

It probably comes as no surprise that Nordic countries have the most open governments, but the UK fares well and is ranked eighth most open nation. Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:27 PM

If you use a cellphone and live in one of these 20 states, there’s a decent chance police have spied on you using a secretive mass surveillance tool called a stingray. But good luck finding out. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure about these devices, it’s that the federal government is fighting tooth and nail to stop you from ever learning anything about them.

Stingrays (also known as cell-site simulators, IMSI catchers and dirtboxes) are devices that identify and track cellphones en masse by acting like fake cell towers, fooling all nearby phones into connecting to them. Last year documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is requiring state and local police departments to sign nondisclosure agreements before obtaining the devices. But the details of those secret agreements were always completely redacted.

That is until earlier this week, when the ACLU released new stingray documents, including an agreement between the FBI and police in Erie County, New York. It confirms what privacy advocates have suspected: The federal government is intervening at the state and local level to hide information about stingrays at any cost — even when it means withholding evidence or dropping criminal cases. Continue>>>

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