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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September 26, 2014 11:12 AM

A privacy activist is suing the Chicago Police Department after officials denied his Freedom of Information Act request seeking departmental records regarding cell phone data collection.

Southwest Side resident Freddy Martinez filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court. The suit claims the police department “has willfully and intentionally violated FOIA by refusing to produce records that would show the full extent to which it has secretly used 'IMSI catcher' or 'stingray' equipment.”

The pieces of equipment 'masquerade' as cell phone towers to secretly obtain data from nearby cell phone users, according to a statement from Martinez's attorneys. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:21 AM

Steve Toth has lived his entire life in southwest Detroit, and his family home is among those expected to be demolished to make way for a new public bridge to Canada pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

But Toth, who has waited with increasing frustration for a state offer to buy his home on South Crawford, said he feels stymied in his efforts to get information about the government's intentions: Snyder moved planning for the proposed New International Trade Crossing into his office after the Legislature approved budget language barring the Michigan Department of Transportation from spending money on the project.

Toth, aware the governor's office is exempt from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, said he tried and failed to get what he needed through phone calls with Snyder's staff. He felt his only recourse was to make FOIA requests to MDOT, which told him the records he sought did not exist. Continue>>>
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September 19, 2014 9:31 AM

Despite having a new criminal subpoena in hand, Gov. Pat Quinn's administration dragged its feet in releasing the politically-sensitive public document -- a delay one expert called a gaming of the state open-records laws that 'stinks'.

On Tuesday, the governor's office finally released the federal grand jury subpoena dated Aug. 27 that sought records related to Quinn's failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, but it did so only selectively.

After the end of business on Sept. 3, the Chicago Sun-Times submitted an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request seeking ìany state or federal subpoenasî received by the governorís office dating back to Aug. 1, a time period that covered the latest query from the U.S. attorney's office. Continue>>>
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September 15, 2014 7:07 PM

The Chicago Public Schools have been hit with a lawsuit accusing the administration of violating the law when it comes to providing the public with information about how the district is run.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Matt Topic, an attorney for the Better Government Association, said the lawsuit alleges CPS has violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by either delaying responses to requests for district records, or not responding at all.

ìThereís individual instances in which CPS has failed to provide records to BGA and to NBC Chicago, but we think that is just the tip of the iceberg. Weíve seen dozens of instances in which CPS has failed to respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner, he said. Continue>>>
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September 15, 2014 3:04 PM

Secretary of State William F. Galvinís office has long been the referee that journalists and citizens rely on when government agencies refuse to release records ranging from crime reports to internal audits. But time and time again, records show, his office has kept government information secret instead of making it public.

Galvinís office recently refused to help a central Massachusetts blogger obtain records for a 63-year-old murder case, records that would ordinarily be public. Galvinís deputy ruled the State Police did not have to release the file because the investigation ìremains ongoingî ó even though the suspected killer died decades ago and police said they werenít pursuing any new leads.

ìI think the state is in the business of protecting the state,î said a disappointed Craig Shibley, who publishes the Barre Muckraker blog. Continue>>>
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September 12, 2014 9:26 AM

West Seneca NY Assemblyman Michael Kearns is giving the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities 10 more days to respond to his Freedom of Information request, or he says he's taking legal action.

The FOIL request stems from seven registered sex offenders who moved to a West Seneca neighborhood -- without notice to residents -- nine months ago. "We are now at the point where we are not getting cooperation or formal answers to our questions in writing," Kearns said at a press conference Thursday, where he announced that he's appealing the OPWDD's lack of response.

Since April, Kearns has been trying to get the answers to neighbors' questions and records pertaining to the sex offenders, including the policies that led to them living on Leydecker Road. Continue>>>
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September 8, 2014 8:09 AM

Last week I noted this story about a judge rejecting government arguments to withhold documents on the Treasury Department's relationship with mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie. FOIA expert Harry Hammitt writes in: "The case they cite to was in the Federal Circuit that doesn’t hear FOIA cases at all, but occasionally deals with some related issue. I read this to mean the court said Fannie Mae’s deliberative process claim wasn’t appropriate under the circumstances, not that the records definitely were not privileged." Hammitt, by the way, writes Access Reports, an in-depth and authoritative publication on freedom of information and privacy law.

Intercepted: The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald's aggressive new outlet, FOIA'd emails between the CIA public affairs office and reporters. The resulting story accuses Los Angeles Times national security reporter Ken Dilanian of being a patsy for the CIA. I won't wade into the thorny ethical issues the story raises, except to say that this is your regular reminder that nearly everything you write in emails to federal agencies can be FOIA'd. Choose wisely. What is more interesting for our purposes, however, is what the CIA redacted from the emails. From The Intercept:

"It’s impossible to know precisely how the CIA flacks responded to reporters’ queries, because the emails show only one side of the conversations. The CIA redacted virtually all of the press handlers’ replies other than meager comments that were made explicitly on the record, citing the CIA Act of 1949, which exempts the agency from having to disclose "intelligence sources and methods" or "the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency." The contents of off-the-record or background emails from CIA press handlers clearly don’t disclose names, titles, or salaries (which can easily be redacted anyway); they may disclose sources and methods, depending on whether you view manipulation of American reporters as an intelligence method. (The Intercept is appealing the redactions.)" Continue>>>
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August 20, 2014 10:26 AM

Wisconsin open records advocates and municipal leaders have brokered a truce in a fight over police record redactions, creating a request form that allows the public to get clean copies if they reveal who they are and why they want the documents.

The deal is a departure from Wisconsin's open records law, which does not require either piece of information. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the two groups that crafted the agreement, say it's meant as a non-binding, stop-gap measure to ensure people can get full reports while a state appeals court sorts out whether federal law mandates the redaction of personal information. "We don't like it," Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said of the agreement. "They're making you do something our state records law says you can't do. (But) it makes a bad situation slightly better."

Police departments often use motor vehicle records to obtain people's names, addresses, birthdates and other personal information. More Wisconsin departments have been redacting that information from incident and accident reports before releasing them to avoid violating the 1994 federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, which requires states to obtain consent before they release a driver's personal information. Continue>>>
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August 12, 2014 7:35 AM

Law-enforcement agencies wield great power and therefore must be accountable to the public for its use. This applies regardless of who is paying an officer’s salary, especially when that employer is an institution such as a university.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is weighing in on a legal fight to establish that arrest records and incident reports of Otterbein University and other private universities and hospitals are public documents. DeWine filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of a suit filed by a former Otterbein student journalist Anna Schiffbauer. In it, he asserts that since these private police departments are a creation of state law — granting them governmental police powers, including the authority to arrest — they are public officers required to turn over records.

Westerville-based Otterbein denies that it is required to disclose records and has asked the court to dismiss the suit. Universities, though, should recognize that parents, students and the community have an important interest in police activities. Continue>>>
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August 12, 2014 7:34 AM

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett should get off the fence and reappoint Monroe County native Terry Mutchler to a second term heading Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records. Mutchler's six-year term ended in April, and she and her busy staff have been in limbo ever since. The work the OOR does is vital. The office advocates for Pennsylvania citizens, helping to ensure access to government records and training public officials on how to comply with the law.

Interest in open government is keen and never-ending, as it should be in a democracy. Mutchler's office has handled more than 11,000 appeals of Right-to-Know request denials, answered more than 50,000 emails and phone calls and led some 1,400 training sessions for public officials, journalists and citizens.

Mutchler has strong backing for a second term, including letters of support from both Democratic and Republican state officials. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, has praised her integrity, leadership and work ethic. Mutchler hopes to continue working with Pileggi to improve the Open Records Law, to strengthen her office's guidelines by turning them into formal regulations, and to continue training public officials. Continue>>>
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August 7, 2014 7:35 AM

The woman hired six years ago to oversee sweeping changes to Pennsylvania's open records law is waiting to see if she still has a job. More than three months since her six-year term expired as executive director of the Office of Open Records, Terry Mutchler doesn't know whether Gov. Tom Corbett will reappoint her to a second term.

Mutchler, a former Associated Press journalist, took the $142,358-a-year post after lawmakers voted in 2008 to grant unprecedented access to the inner workings of public agencies. “Every day you come in (and), for me and my family, we wonder if that's my last paycheck,” Mutchler said. “I'm willing to take that, but it's very, very stressful on the staff.”

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said the governor will decide “at the appropriate time.” Mutchler said that as a “liberal Democrat, out-lesbian,” she might be out of Corbett's comfort zone — but said, on balance, her deputy, Nathan Byerly, is a conservative, straight man who voted for Corbett. Continue>>>
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August 6, 2014 6:29 AM

A new court of appeal ruling could make it easier for journalists to request data under the UK Freedom of Information Act in a specific file format.

The decision relates to a 2010 FoI request to Buckinghamshire County Council for information about the 11+ school entry exam to be supplied "in Excel format". When the council complied with the FoI request a month later, it supplied the applicant, Nick Innes, with 184 pages of data in PDF format instead.

Appeal court judge Lord Justice Underhill said in last week's ruling: "The result of course was that, although he had all the information for which he had asked, it could not be manipulated or processed in any of the ways permitted by the standard Excel software (e.g. generating graphs or tables or performing statistical analyses)." Continue>>>

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