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 8, 2014 12:49 PM

Sen. Fred Dyson’s bill would make it so all criminal cases that result in a dismissal or an acquittal are considered confidential. They won’t appear on the Internet, and you won’t be able to access them at the courthouse unless you are a state worker who deals with child welfare.

The Eagle River Republican presented it on the Senate floor as a justice issue. “This one is about Amendments Four and Five: privacy and due process,” said Dyson, referencing the United States Constitution.

The rationale behind the bill is simple: If a jury does not find a person guilty of a crime, then that person should not be punished by the court of public opinion.

According to data from the Department of Law, about a third of misdemeanor charges and a fifth of felonies never go trial. Dyson said over time, that adds up to a lot of people with publicly available criminal records who never saw the inside of a courtroom but might be judged negatively when applying for a job or an apartment. Continue>>>

March 21, 2014 10:02 AM

Following in the footsteps of tech companies and wireless carriers, Comcast issued its first transparency report today, detailing for how many customer it handed data over to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Collectively, Comcast says that it complied with 24,698 law enforcement requests regarding criminal matters — largely subpoenas, with 93 fulfilled requests for pen registers or traces, and two fulfilled requests for wiretaps. Comcast also breaks down which instances involved handing over communication content — what was said or typed — and which only involved metadata: content was handed over for 253 warrants, while metadata was supplied for 1,080 of them.

Of greater interest is Comcast's receipt of secretive national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act information requests. Like others, Comcast is only permitted to disclose these figures in wide ranges and only on a six-month delay — as such, its first figures only represent the first six months of 2013. Comcast says that it received between 0 and 999 national security letters and 0 and 999 FISA orders. In both cases, between 0 and 999 customer accounts were affected as a result of the requests.

Comcast's national security requests are quite a bit lower than other service providers. Verizon said that it had received between 1,000 and 1,999 national security letters, and AT&T said it had received between 2,000 and 2,999. Though Verizon did not disclose its FISA requests, AT&T said that it received a staggering 35,000 and 35,999 requests — dramatically higher than the under 1,000 that Comcast received. That's likely a matter of AT&T's breadth as a wireless carrier: telephone metadata has been a focal point of FISA requests, and the major difference in figures suggests that traditional cable companies and ISPs may be less of interest. Continue>>>

Comcast, FOIA, open records
March 2, 2014 5:55 AM

Attorneys for the city of Nitro will argue Monday before the West Virginia Supreme Court that a circuit judge erred by not allowing the city to charge $25 an hour to look up information to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests.

In 2009, the Nitro City Council approved an ordinance charging citizens $25 an hour if it took city officials more than 10 minutes to look up information to comply with FOIA requests. The fee was supposed to compensate the city for the time it took to collect the requested information.

In June 2012, Richard and Lorinda Nease filed a FOIA request asking for copies of a city ordinance, minutes of meetings concerning the ordinance and complaints to the city about storm drainage, according to court documents on file in Kanawha Circuit Court. Continue>>>

January 28, 2014 4:41 AM

Clinton city (IA) officials and former city officials involved in a lawsuit filed by a citizen’s group over closed meeting records are being advised they could be personally liable if there are any penalties or attorney’s fees levied in the case.

The communication was issued by the city’s acting legal counsel, John Frey. KROS News obtained a copy of the communication issued Jan. 20 from a person involved in the case. A judge earlier ruled the city violated the open records laws by not releasing the records of the closed meetings. A hearing on damages is scheduled for Thursday this week.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a local group known as Citizens for Open Government. The sessions involved an Emergency Medical Services billing lawsuit that resulted in a settlement of the city paying the federal government $4.5 million in the Medicare-Medicaid case. The case claimed the city over-billed the government agencies for ambulance services. Continue >>>

January 23, 2014 10:49 AM

Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley will not reprise last year’s largely ineffective efforts to increase public access to government records.

South Dakota lawmakers shot down five of the eight open government bills Daugaard and Jackley presented with help from a summer work group last year, including what would have been the most significant reforms. This year, neither man has those failed bills on his legislative agenda.

“When legislation is brought that doesn’t make it, you need to make a judgment about what’s politically feasible,” said Tony Venhuizen, Daugaard’s senior adviser. Continue >>>


January 14, 2014 9:58 AM



Melissa MacGowan, Administrator


101E Reynolds Journalism Institute

Columbia, MO 65211

(573) 882-4856 ·

Supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation, the suit’s settlement

includes training from state’s Sunshine group

COLUMBIA, Mo. (January 14, 2014) – Using a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition(NFOIC), Cindy Ference, a tenant in a King County Housing Authority complex in Shoreline, WA took on the housing authority in a lawsuit last year alleging violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act.

Her successful 2013 lawsuit exposed a now-abolished practice of using a private non-profit board to conduct public Housing Authority business.  Ms. Ference and the Housing Authority settled the open-meeting claims last summer, initiating the first round of reforms, including earlier and more detailed notice of Housing Authority board meetings, posting agendas online, and posting adopted resolutions online in a searchable format. The new settlement resolves the remaining claims under the Public Records Act, and brings the case to a final conclusion.

In the final settlement, the Housing Authority, which serves more than 18,000 low-income, senior and disabled residents in the suburbs of Seattle, agreed to pay Ms. Ference $24,300, which is equivalent to the maximum $100 per day in penalties authorized by Washington’s Public Records Act, in addition to attorney fees.  Those payments were received last week.

Also, the settlement requires that senior staff members and public records officers of the King County Housing Authority receive training to ensure transparency in the future as part of comprehensive voluntary reforms. The Washington Coalition for Open Government(WCOG), a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, will provide training. “We hope this settlement will serve as a model for state and local agencies to partner with WCOG in ensuring open and accountable government,” said WCOG President Toby Nixon. 

Ference received financial support for her legal action from NFOIC, which administers the Knight FOI Fund. The open government litigation fund, which is intended to assist meritorious open government lawsuits, was begun in 2010 under a grant to NFOIC and the University of Missouri from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Hyde Post, president of NFOIC, said, “This is the kind of positive change that the Knight FOI Fund is designed to promote.”

The NFOIC is a nonpartisan national coalition of state and regional open government groups and advocates headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to foster government transparency at the state and local levels. The Knight FOI Fund was begun under a $2 million, three-year grant to NFOIC and the University from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight FOI Fund is set up to assist the pursuit of important open government cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions. For more information on the Knight FOI Fund, please visit:

Since it began in January 2010, the Knight FOI Fund has assisted litigants with 35 grant awards in FOI or public access cases. While some are still being adjudicated, Knight Fund-supported cases have resulted in 21 favorable court orders or settlements that achieved more transparency or greater access.

August 15, 2013 12:34 PM

Perspective from TechPresident: It is hard for Westerners to realize just how much we take for granted about intellectual property, and in particular, how much the property owner’s perspective--be it a corporation, government or creative artist--is embedded in our view of the world as the natural order of things.

While sharing and copying technologies are disrupting some of the ways we understanding “content,” when you visit a non-Western country like India, the spectrum of choices become broader. There is less timidity wrestling with questions like: should poor farmers pay inflated prices for patented genetically-engineered seeds? How long should patents be given for life-saving medicines that cost more than many make in a year? Should Indian universities spend millions on academic journals and articles? In the United States or other rich countries we may weigh both sides of these questions--the rights of the owner vs. the moral rights of the user--but there’s no question people elsewhere, such as in India, weigh them different given the questions of life and death or of poverty and development.

Consequently, conversations about open knowledge outside the supposedly settled lands of the “rich” often stretch beyond permission-based “fair use” and “creative commons” approaches. There is a desire to explore potential moral rights to use “content” in addition to just property rights that may be granted under statutes.

Get the rest here.


March 11, 2013 2:12 PM

Opinion from USAToday:

When asked to name an event occurring in March, many would identify St. Patrick's Day. Sports fans might default to March Madness. A small cadre of die-hards with a fanatical dedication to open government will answer Sunshine Week, which starts Sunday. All three answers are correct, even though it might not be immediately clear how they're connected.

What does a national initiative coordinated by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information, have to do with the most bacchanal of days and a near-month of hoops heaven?

The answer starts with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, famous for football, aren't half-bad at basketball either. And recent scandals highlight the importance of transparency and access to records on college and university campuses.

February 18, 2013 10:29 AM

From The Huffington Post:

Fabled Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." If that is in fact the case, then the world as a whole is a pretty grimy place, according to the latest edition of the Open Budget Survey.

The biennial report, published by the International Budget Partnership, tracks government spending transparency across the globe. Of the 100 countries assessed in the survey, 77 "fail to meet basic standards of budget transparency," with the average score a lowly 43 out of 100 points.

September 21, 2012 1:23 PM

From The Washington Post:

WASHINGTON — Federal appeals court judges Thursday questioned the CIA’s efforts to block information on the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists.

A lower court federal judge sided with the CIA last year and dismissed a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking records about the use of drones. In response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, the CIA had refused to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records.

September 21, 2012 8:26 AM

From Knight Foundation:

SAN FRANCISCO -- (Sept. 20, 2012) -— Six media innovation ventures that make it easier to access and use information on local communities, air quality, elections, demographics and more received a total of $2.22 million today as winners of the Knight News Challenge: Data.

The data challenge, one of three launched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this year, accelerates projects with funding and advice from Knight’s network of media innovators. For the data round, Knight Foundation sought ideas that make the large amounts of information produced each day available, understandable and actionable.

“The winning projects go well beyond collecting data to unlocking its value in simple and powerful ways, so journalists can analyze numbers and trends, and communities can make decisions on issues important to them,” said Michael Maness, vice president for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

The winners of the challenge will present their projects via live Web stream at 4 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. PDT Saturday, Sept. 22, from the Online News Association conference in San Francisco.

August 2, 2012 1:01 PM

From The Daily Republic:

PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley announced the formation of an Open Government Task Force that will study open-record and open-meeting laws in South Dakota to ensure maximum public access to state government business.

“The workings of government should be as transparent as practicable,” Daugaard said. “Unless there is a compelling reason otherwise, I believe government information should be open and easily accessible.”

The task force includes media; city, county and state officials; representatives of various organizations; law enforcement; prosecutors and others.

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