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 28, 2014 9:38 AM

Daily life has become inseparable from new technologies. Our phones and tablets let us shop from the couch, track how many miles we run, and keep in touch with friends across town and around the world - benefits barely possible a decade ago.

With respect to our communities, Uber and Lyft now shuttle us around town, reducing street traffic and parking problems. Adopt-a-Hydrant apps coordinate efforts to dig out hydrants after snowstorms, saving firefighters time when battling blazes. Change.org, helps millions petition for and effect social and political change.

Yet as a sector, government typically embraces technology well-behind the consumer curve. This leads to disheartening stories, like veterans waiting months or years for disability claims due to outdated technology or the troubled rollout of the Healthcare.gov website. This is changing. Continue>>>
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March 28, 2014 9:37 AM

For 48 hours, more than 900 Canadian entrepreneurs, innovators and amateur developers from across the country combed though raw federal data.

Their goal: Translating that information into an app, with a chance to win $25,000. The government’s goal: Engage with the data community and get an app that helps Canadians in their everyday lives.

“If we just left it to ‘Bureaucrat X14’ on the 10th floor of some office building in Ottawa to come up with all of the open data applications, I don’t think that would be very successful,” Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the minister spearheading Canada’s open government initiative, said in an interview this week. Continue>>>
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Canada, Hackathon, oped data
March 28, 2014 9:36 AM

NFOIC member the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is asking Gov. Susana Martinez about the administration’s policy for handling information requests from the Legislature’s watchdog committees.

The questions were raised in response to a story by The Associated Press that Martinez agencies have told the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee to send their information requests to the governor’s chief of staff for approval before an agency will respond.

Foundation Executive Director Susan Boe sent a letter Wednesday to the governor asking if her chief of staff now serves as the “chief records custodian” for agency requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 9:50 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the Delaware Court of Chancery's appeal of a federal appellate court ruling declaring its confidential arbitration program unconstitutional. The Supreme Court's refusal to grant certiorari ends the Chancery Court's arbitration program after three years of litigation and two federal court decisions.

In an order issued Monday, the high court said it would not grant certiorari in Delaware Coalition for Open Government v. Strine, but did not provide more information.

The Supreme Court's decision means that an October 2013 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit declaring that the arbitration program violated the public's right to access civil trials under the First Amendment will stand. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:30 AM

When President Barack Obama signed the Open Data Executive Order last May, many IT leaders applauded the White House's decision to release treasure troves of public data as part of an important government initiative for greater transparency.

However, what many didn't bargain for was the state in which they'd find these once-buried data sets. "A dog's breakfast," "a train wreck," "a massive hairball" -- those are a few of the terms IT leaders have used to describe the vast volumes of public data now being made available to the general public.

Yet the business opportunities are unprecedented -- open data offers bits and bytes of public information that are freely available for anyone to use to build new businesses, generate revenue, develop new products, conduct research or empower consumers. With the federal government as the single largest source of open data in the U.S., we now have unfettered access to information about everything from bus routes and pollution levels to SEC filings and weather patterns. Savvy businesses are using public data to predict consumer behavior, shape marketing campaigns, develop life-saving medications, evaluate home properties, even rate retirement plans. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:29 AM

Judicial Watch announced today that on March 18, 2014, it filed two new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to obtain government records about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

One lawsuit seeks information about the December 19, 2013, decision by the Obama administration to establish new "hardship exemptions" that could allow most consumers to escape the Obamacare individual mandate without penalty (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No.1:14-cv-00429)). The second suit seeks records about security and privacy concerns surrounding the Obamacare healthcare.gov web portal (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No. 1:14-cv-00430)).

The "hardship exemptions" suit was filed after a December 20, 2013, Judicial Watch FOIA request to HHS was ignored contrary to law. The lawsuit seeks the following information: Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:28 AM

Many public officials have decided just saying no to requests for government documents is not the best way to keep them secret. Indirect assaults on the public's right to know are better, they believe. That way they cannot be accused of disobeying freedom of information laws.

As thoughtful Americans were pondering the observance of Sunshine Week last week, West Virginia Supreme Court members were considering an important freedom of information case. It goes to the heart of one method used to keep the public from obtaining documents to which it is entitled under state law.

Local and state officials have known for years that they are permitted to charge the public reasonable fees, usually a few cents per page, for providing copies of government documents. But in 2012, officials in Nitro, near Charleston, decided to up the ante. They told a couple who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request that the city would charge them $25 an hour for looking up the documents. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:27 AM

Sunshine Week. Open meetings. We’re all very familiar with these terms — but how much emphasis do we really place on the significance they have in our government?
Last week, March 16-22, was observed as Sunshine Week and, as we in the newspaper industry often say, shines a light on how important it is that our elected officials conduct themselves in being transparent in their roles.

We can’t take open meetings laws for granted. They were established with a goal in mind: To keep us, the people officeholders serve, informed.

Behind closed door shenanigans are nothing new in the political arena. But the laws governing open meetings ensure that those who serve are responsible and truly open.

The concept behind an open meeting is simple: Legislation was passed to direct how public meetings are conducted. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:25 AM

Santa Rosa's Open Government Task Force has finished selecting its members and set its first meeting for April 3.

Vice Mayor Robin Swinth and Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom are heading the 11-member task force, which is charged with producing a report about the city's commitment to open and transparent government.

“I think the panel represents a group of people with diverse backgrounds who are going to add a lot to this discussion,” Swinth said Tuesday.

The other members of the group include two members from other city boards and commissions and seven members of the public. The two city board members selected are planning commissioners Ashle Crocker, an environmental and land-use attorney, and Peter Stanley, a development consultant. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:24 AM

James Clapper, the Obama administration’s director of national intelligence, is winner of this year’s Rosemary Award, given out for the “Worst Open Government Performance of 2013″ by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The award is named for Rosemary Woods, President Richard Nixon’s secretary, who took the rap — and posed for a famous stretching picture — for erasing 18 1/2 minutes from a key Watergate coverup tape.

Clapper won the prize for telling a whopper to a U.S. Senate hearing about National Security Agency evesdropping. “Does the National Security Agency collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds’ of millions of Americans’ telephone records?” asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, an NSA critic.

“No sir,” replied Clapper. A moment later, he added the qualification, “Not wittingly.” Continue>>>
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Federal Government, NSA
March 24, 2014 1:02 PM

The easiest and most common form of government communication is often the most expensive and difficult for the public to access.

Email has transformed government operations in ways that the state’s Freedom of Information Act never anticipated when it was last revised in 1999, said Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the state’s FOIA Council.

While the vast majority of simple requests for information such as accident or spending reports are routinely made public for free to anyone who asks, public bodies in the Richmond area sometimes quote prices of hundreds or thousands of dollars to produce sets of emails. Continue>>>
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email, FOIA
March 24, 2014 1:01 PM

Many public officials have decided just saying no to requests for government documents is not the best way to keep them secret. Indirect assaults on the public's right to know are better, they believe. That way they cannot be accused of disobeying freedom of information laws.

As thoughtful Americans were pondering the observance of Sunshine Week during the past few days, West Virginia Supreme Court members were considering an important freedom of information case. It goes to the heart of one method used to keep the public from obtaining documents to which it is entitled under state law.

Local and state officials have known for years that they are permitted to charge the public reasonable fees, usually a few cents per page, for providing copies of government documents. But in 2012, officials in Nitro, near Charleston, decided to up the ante. They told a couple who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request that the city would charge them $25 an hour for looking up the documents. Continue>>>
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West Virginia
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