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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November 8, 2013 10:29 AM

From Rapid City Journal: House and Senate conferees are continuing to meet to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2013 Farm Bill. We received a copy of a letter to the conferees from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, calling attention to a provision in the House bill that would undermine the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the letter, the House version requires the federal government to withhold information about agricultural and livestock operations, and a coalition of public information groups and others are urging the conference committee to strip out the language that affects the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Language in the House bill is an apparent reaction to an incident earlier this year when the Environmental Protection Agency improperly disclosed private information about confined animal feeding operations to several environmental groups. The EPA asked that the information be returned, and the groups complied. However, the EPA did not tell the agricultural operators until after it became public that their personal information had been sent out -- including names, addresses, geographic coordinates, permit numbers, numbers and types of animals, phone numbers, names and addresses of employees and, in some cases, lists of deceased family members.

Visit Rapid City Journal

Also, please see out blog post Open government groups urge government to reject farm bill that could keep agriculture information secret for more background.

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November 7, 2013 1:21 PM

From NFOIC: Open government groups, including NFOIC members and allies, are urging House and Senate conferees to remove provisions from the Farm Bill that provides for increased government secrecy regarding agricultural and livestock operations.

The advocates for transparency sent e-mails and made numerous calls to the offices of conference committee members. NFOIC and 16 of its member groups were among the signers of a letter that went to all conference committee members urging them to strip from the final version provisions that "unnecessarily cut off public access to a broad swath of information" that will become exempt from disclosure under the House version of the bill.

"Members of the public have a right to know about agricultural and livestock operations that affect them, including where such operations are located. This information is especially critical for people who live near or share waterways with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Yet the language included in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill (HR 2642) requires the government to withhold even basic information about the location of livestock operations," the open government groups wrote in the letter.

Please see the complete letter here (PDF/184KB).

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October 24, 2013 2:37 PM

From Courthouse News Service: (CN) - President George W. Bush's presidential directive on cybersecurity is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, a federal judge ruled.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center had filed the FOIA request in June 2009, seeking information related to National Security Presidential Directive 54.

Visit Courthouse News Service for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:34 PM

From Al Jazeera America: While much has been made of the government's current penchant for secrecy, few have noticed that this atmosphere now shrouds government history as well.

Working on a biography of a noted Washington journalist, I placed a routine Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2011 for her FBI file. The timing of my application seemed propitious. Two years earlier, President Barack Obama had signed an executive order to speed declassification of materials and had issued an encouraging FOIA memorandum.

Visit Al Jazeera America for more.

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June 19, 2013 8:57 AM

From The Washington Post:  WASHINGTON — It’s as if the United States has two governments, one open and one very much not. President Barack Obama leads both, trying not to butt heads with himself.

[...]

Now it’s known to conduct sweeping phone-records and Internet surveillance of ordinary people in programs kept on the lowdown until an employee of a National Security Agency contractor revealed them.

 

June 19, 2013 8:42 AM

Editorial from Columbia Journalism Review:  Despite the recent blockbuster leaks about spying on the phone records of millions of Americans, and President Obama’s stated willingness to discuss the issues they raise, a front-page New York Times article on Tuesday asserted that “legal and political obstacles” make a vigorous public debate about surveillance and civil liberties highly unlikely.

Scott Shane and Jonathan Weisman of the Times made a solid case that neither the executive nor legislative branches—and neither Democratic nor Republican leaders—show real interest in disclosing anything more about the programs. As for the president, they noted that his record on national security disclosures belies any commitment to transparency.

But the Times story disregarded another possible influence: The media itself.

 

June 14, 2013 9:19 AM

Opinion from Nextgov:  Perhaps it’s the constrained fiscal reality, punctuated by threats of government shut-downs. Or maybe it’s the ideological wars in Washington, playing out most recently in the battle over privacy and security sparked by revelations about the PRISM surveillance program. Whatever the reasons, the public sector in the 21st century gets a bad rap. As Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media, has said, government is seen by legions of citizens from coast to coast as a bloated and inefficient ATM that takes in taxes and delivers mediocre services in return. Even a muscular liberal like Paul Krugman of The New York Times calls the federal bureaucracy “an insurance company with an army.”

But a new movement, spurred by digital and social activism, is taking root to renovate and redefine the public sector.

 

June 12, 2013 5:11 PM

From Legalbrief Today:  The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that the US Trade Representative (USTR) can legally withhold classified documents regarding free trade negotiations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), says a Jurist report.

US District Court Judge Richard Roberts ruled last year that the document should be released to the Centre for International Environmental Law, finding that there was no reason to justify withholding it. The Appeals Court, however, reversed the order and gave deference to the USTR's judgment after determining that forcing disclosure of the classified position paper 'could limit the flexibility of US negotiators' in the future. The report notes that US courts have dealt with many FOIA cases recently, on both state and federal levels. In April the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in McBurney v Young that Virginia has the right to exclude non-residents from accessing state records under its FOIA. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in March reversed a lower court ruling which allowed the CIA to refuse to confirm or deny whether it has records pertaining to the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists. The case arose from a FOIA claim filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requesting records on the CIA's drone programme regarding the legal justification for using drones and information concerning civilian casualties. In March 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Milner v. Department of the Navy that the government may not withhold certain information under the FOIA.

June 12, 2013 1:28 PM

Opinion from the First Amendment Center:  An irony of timing twice has put U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning in the headlines at critical moments in gaining congressional approval of a federal shield law that would protect journalists and their confidential sources.

On Capitol Hill, there’s new-found White House support and congressional action behind proposals to for the first time provide legal means in federal courts for journalists to keep secret their confidential sources and unpublished information. President Obama called for passage of federal shield law in the wake of two controversies in May involving Department of Justice moves to seize journalists’ phone record, e-mail and other data.

 

June 11, 2013 12:06 PM

From Beloit Daily News:  MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A clash between a national conservative think tank and a Wisconsin group that advocates for open records is raising questions about how much of the public’s business can be conducted behind closed doors.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is being challenged by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and others for using file-hosting services to exchange documents with government officials, which shields their discussions from public view, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. ALEC, which writes legislation for state governments, also claims that its materials are not subject to Wisconsin’s open records law.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. --eds

June 4, 2013 8:53 AM

From Yahoo:  WASHINGTON (AP) — Some of President Barack Obama's political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.

The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees' email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.

Visit Yahoo for the rest.

 

March 19, 2013 10:59 AM

From American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled today that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot deny its "intelligence interest" in the targeted killing program and refuse to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about the program while officials continue to make public statements about it.

"This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA's interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program's scope and legal basis," said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court in September. "It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them."



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