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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June 24, 2013 7:40 AM

From Computerworld Blogs

This hero is Dick Hammerstrom, an editor at The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., who has been working for more than two decades to keep courts and government meetings open to public view. He's repeatedly faced-off against legislators who introduce bills that will hide government activities like measures to keep GPS tracking records kept by police from public view.  He runs seminars all over the country for legislators, attorneys, police, journalists, teachers and students on why public information about government activities is so important to democracy.

When Hammerstrom first started in journalism in the 1970s, he worked in Charlotte, N.C., where a government administrator didn't want to share much about the public's business with the press and public. To get essential stories, hIs reporter predecessors in the basement newsroom of the government building had long followed the practice of waiting for the janitor to throw out that day's carbon copies of typed official letters. "We learned to hold the carbons up to the light to read them," Hammerstrom said, explaining how carbon paper was once used to generate multiple copies of a typewritten document. Various stories were generated via that carbon paper probing.

 

April 8, 2013 8:46 AM

Please also see the press release here [PDF/557KB].

Annual open government conference brings together FOI and transparency advocates from across the country.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (April 5, 2013) — The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) announced discussion topics for the 2013 FOI Summit in New Orleans, including the changing news media environment, ways to enable greater access through technology, and tips for strengthening state organizations.

2013 FOI SummitThe annual FOI Summit, a national conference concentrating on open government convened in collaboration with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), will be held Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18, at the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel. PAR is the state-based co-host for this year’s Summit.

Moderating panel discussions are: David Marcello, president of the Public Law Center at Tulane University; Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE); Peter Scheer, executive director of the San Rafael, CA-based First Amendment Coalition; Scott Sternberg, a New Orleans media law and access attorney; and Linda Lightfoot, recently retired executive editor of The Advocate, the Baton Rouge-based daily that recently started a New Orleans edition.

“We are pleased with the energy and enthusiasm PAR is contributing to what I expect will be one of our best national conferences ever,” said Kenneth F. Bunting, NFOIC’s executive director. “With any luck, we will have record attendance, more states represented, more diversity and more student participation than any previous Summit.”

Friday’s program consists of one panel, “Yes, you CAN . . . ,” which promises practical tips for strengthening state Freedom of Information (FOI) groups, and a roundtable discussion, “Ideas Marketplace,” during which advocates from around the country share obstacles and successes in meeting transparency challenges in their respective states and regions.

The lineup of Saturday panels includes:

  • “The Deliberative Process 150 Years Post-Lincoln,” which references the Oscar-nominated film based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," and asks how much access transparent government demands and how much confidential council should be permitted.
  • “Not a Picayune Problem,” which focuses on transformational changes taking place nationwide in the media industry and the impact those changes are having on open government advocacy.
  • “Digital Dodges and the Email Sleight of Hand,” which will examine the use of private email accounts and clever tricks like email aliases to shield otherwise public communications from compelled disclosure, and
  • “Technology and Access: Promise, Possibility and Perils,” a far-ranging discussion on the impacts of advancing technology on government transparency, media and privacy concerns.

NFOIC and PAR will announce in coming days both a keynote speaker and the name of the 2013 inductee into “Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.”

Registration fees range from $95 for Summit access that includes an NFOIC individual membership to $35 for students presenting a valid ID. The registration fee covers admittance to all sessions and panels, Friday's reception, a breakfast Saturday morning at the annual members' meeting, Saturday's lunch, and Saturday's reception.

NFOIC is a nonpartisan alliance of citizen-driven nonprofit freedom of information organizations, academic and First Amendment centers, journalistic societies and attorneys. It traces its origins and history to national assemblies that state freedom of information (FOI) advocates held in Dallas in 1989 and 1991. Headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism since 2005, the organization promotes open government by supporting a broad range of groups and endeavors in individual states.

Besides supporting and coalescing its state and regional affiliate organizations, the NFOIC administers the Knight FOI Fund, which offers financial support to defray costs and expenses in open government lawsuits throughout the year. It offers a national, collective voice on freedom of information and transparency issues.

PAR is a private, nonprofit, non-partisan public policy research organization founded in 1950. In addition to serving as a catalyst for governmental reform, PAR also has a program of citizen education, believing that the soundest way to achieve political progress is through deep-rooted public understanding and support.

Robert Scott, president of PAR, said a Summit like this is valuable to the cause of open government because it brings people together in a face-to-face setting.

"There is a lot of value in the direct contact,” Scott said. “When people come together like this, it elevates the issues. You can't just rest on platitudes; you have to engage in a dialogue, and that's not something you can do in any other way."

The Summit shines a light on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and offers an opportunity for NFOIC members and others to get a clear view of disclosure and access laws, state by state. The conference brings together access advocates from all over the country to highlight recent successes and share ideas for combating secrecy in the future.

Visit NFOIC’s Summit homepage <http://www.nfoic.org/2013-foi-summit> for more information and future updates to the schedule and program.

 

October 24, 2012 2:28 PM

From The American Civil Liberties Union:

On October 23, 2012, the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests with five federal agencies seeking records related to the federal government’s domestic use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – better known as drones – as well as plans for the future rollout of drones in the United States.

[...]

The FOIA requests ask questions including:

  • How are drones being funded and purchased?
  • What are the technical capabilities of drones that are being flown in the U.S.?
  • What type of surveillance data is being captured, and how long is it being stored?
  • Who can access drones and the data they capture?
  • What other policies or procedures currently govern the domestic use of drones?
October 12, 2012 1:52 PM

From Rio Grande Sun:

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government held its annual Dixon lunch Oct. 3 in Albuquerque. The group honored four people who represent what is good in government, journalism, politics and the legal world. Additionally we honored Jim Dines, a recently retired lawyer who spent much of his career fighting for the cause of open government.

[...]

Several of the people who nominated the winners spoke about the difference between working in the newspaper business 30 years ago and today. Albuquerque Journal editor Kent Walz spoke of politicians and public officials just ignoring the media because they could. With no Inspection of Public Records Act, reporters had few tools to get solid information regarding anything from bids to police reports to simple minutes from meetings.

[...]

There’s good news for those interested in learning how to lead an open meeting and provide true access to public documents. The Foundation will be presenting one of its “road shows” at the Espanola Middle School Oct. 16. Executive Director Gwyneth Doland is being brought here by Espanola School District’s union. The union is fortunate in that its liaison, Charles Goodmacher is on the Foundation’s Board and is a big believer in openness.

Learn more on the NMFOG's website.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. -- eds

October 12, 2012 9:21 AM

From Carolina Academic Press:

The Law of Access to Government is the first casebook dedicated to freedom of information law. Using the case method, the text approaches the law and policy of public access to information under government control, including records, meetings, and places. Students are guided through the materials with introductory and transitional texts, and extensive notes and questions to form the basis of class discussions and further research. The text is designed for use by students at any level of law or mass communication study, assuming no previous knowledge of constitutional law or statutory access. At the same time, students versed in the First Amendment or in mass communication policy and practice will find ample material to further develop their mastery of the freedom of information system in the United States.

The Law of Access to Government covers both state and federal law, and all three branches of government. The text is divided into three parts and ten chapters. The first part introduces access to government with the common law and constitutional precepts that still animate access to the judiciary today. Coverage ranges from staples, such as Richmond Newspapers, to current issues such as mistaken disclosures and prior restraints, and secret-docket scandals. Part two focuses on access to the executive branch, and includes the federal FOIA and open meetings laws, the special problems of access to law enforcement and corrections, and a chapter dedicated to homeland security and the war on terror. Coverage ranges from the essential DOJ v. Reporters Committee to death chambers, state secrets, and terrorism prosecutions. Finally, part three examines specific policy and problems in open records and open meetings, such as personnel exemptions and meeting remedies; electronic access, such as personal privacy and new communication protocols; and scope-of-statute issues, such as separation of powers and privatization.

Preview the book: The Law of Access to Government

Front Matter Available for Download on SSRN

September 28, 2012 9:27 AM

From American Civil Liberties Union:

Today we sued the federal government to enforce Freedom of Information Act requests we filed over the summer to learn about how it is using a technology that can track Americans’ location with increasing efficacy: automated license plate readers. (See today’s legal complaint, our original FOIA requests, and a blog we posted when we made those requests.)

We know enough about the rapid expansion of this technology to be very concerned about it, but there’s a lot we don’t know.That is why ACLU affiliates from 38 states and Washington, D.C. filed records requests in July 2012 with their state and local police departments to find out how they are collecting, sharing, and storing our location data using these systems.

September 25, 2012 9:41 AM

From OpEdNews.com:

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard today filed a request (PDF/48KB) for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and/or Privacy Act (PA) for copies of all records of communications between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the eight groups that have banned R-CALF USA from participating in the meeting of the Beef Checkoff Industry Input Group (Checkoff Industry Group) to be held Sept. 24, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. USDA representative Craig Shackelford is scheduled to make a presentation at the meeting.

The eight groups that banned R-CALF USA from participating in the upcoming meeting include:
National Cattlemen's Beef Association, U.S. Cattlemen's Association, Meat Importers Council of America, American National CattleWomen, American Farm Bureau Federation, Livestock Marketing Association, National Livestock Producers, and National Farmers Union.

August 7, 2012 12:57 PM

A public records project that looks at book challenges in schools in Missouri and across the country.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 18, 2012) – Sunshine requests for public records of book challenges were sent to all 566 Missouri school districts asking for all correspondence regarding book challenges since Jan. 1, 2008. Responses to the requests came in from 495 of the school districts. There were 51 titles challenged in 32 school districts, including one in Columbia. Many of the challenges had less to do with the overall content of a book but more to do with whether it was appropriate for certain age groups. Others argued that the books they were challenging were inconsistent with community values or that they contained language and references to behavior that conflicted with school conduct rules.

Charles Davis, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, organized the book challenges project published by the Missourian this week. Davis credits his students' dogged pursuit of information as well as the access to public information our country provides to the project's successful results.
 
The American Library Association lists 1,647 challenges in the United States from 2008 through 2011. The vast majority involved K-12 schools, but there were other challenges to books in prisons, theaters, museums and university libraries. The association estimates only one of every four or five challenges is reported.
 
Placed against a national backdrop, Missouri’s library book challenges hit many common themes. Sexually explicit descriptions and offensive language are two of the top drivers of book challenges, which typically are initiated by parents, according to the American Library Association.
 
Why do people challenge books? Laura King, professor of psychological sciences at MU, says it is about control and defending one's world view and belief systems.
 
 
Charles N. Davis, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, is also the former executive director of NFOIC -- eds.

 

August 7, 2012 12:30 PM

 

COLUMBIA, Mo. (August 6, 2012) – Freedom of the press is viewed by many as a cornerstone of democracy. But can it actually help improve people’s lives and make them happy? A researcher at the Missouri School of Journalism has found that citizens of countries with press freedom tend to be much happier than citizens of countries without free presses. Doctoral student Edson Tandoc Jr. says that press freedom directly predicts life satisfaction across the world.
 
Tandoc and his co-author, Bruno Takahashi from Michigan State University, analyzed data from 161 countries using a 2010 Gallup Poll evaluating happiness levels around the world. Tandoc and Takahashi compared those happiness levels with Freedom House‘s press freedom index which rates the level of each country’s press freedom. They also examined human development statistics gathered by the United Nations as well as the Environmental Performance Index created by researchers at Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy. Tandoc found that the more press freedom a country enjoyed, the higher the levels of life satisfaction, or happiness, of its citizens tended to be.
 
Tandoc also found that countries with higher levels of press freedom enjoyed better environmental quality and higher levels of human development, both of which also contribute to life satisfaction. He credits this to the watchdog function of the press, which helps expose corruption of all levels in a community.
 
This study was published in the Social Indicators Research journal and presented at the International Communication Association 2012 conference in Phoenix.
 

June 12, 2012 12:24 PM

From NPR

Last week's assignment of two federal prosecutors to investigate disclosures of national security information might have been the first shot in a new war on leaks. The director of national intelligence is expected soon to announce new measures to fight unauthorized disclosures, and some members of Congress say it could be time for new anti-leaking laws.

[...]

But advocates of open government fear an overreaction.

"Members of Congress in both parties have adopted an extreme knee-jerk position that presumes any and all disclosure of classified information is always wrong," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. "That just doesn't fit the experience of those of us who gather or consume news."

June 12, 2012 12:10 PM

From Courthouse News Service

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge granted summary judgment to the Department of Justice after it found and released one final document responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Sharif Mobley, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Yemen.

The document released to Mobley is an unclassified email exchange between the DOJ's Civil Division and its Office of Legal Counsel.

 

June 6, 2012 3:42 PM

From OregonLive.com

The Oregonian met resistance in seeking public records for its series on affordable housing in the Portland metro area. Portland Housing Bureau officials released project-specific data for more than 150 projects only under pressure from the Multnomah County district attorney's office. City officials charged the newspaper $1,162 for the information.
 
Home Forward, the housing authority for Multnomah County, spent nearly $15,000 in legal fees to fight The Oregonian's request for location-specific Section 8 data, citing privacy concerns. The district attorney's office ordered the information released in December. The Housing Authority of Clackamas County estimated it would require the newspaper to pay $2,000 for documents but ultimately charged $268.
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