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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December 11, 2014 4:05 PM

The city of Boston lets citizens track its spending online. In Oakland, public records requests are posted on the city's website.

Government tools like these may be coming to San Diego. Local officials are pushing policy to open more of the city's information to the public.

Ben Katz of Open San Diego said identifying and releasing city records in a format San Diegans can use is crucial. Continue>>>
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December 9, 2014 3:02 PM

Florida Center for Investigative Reporting via Columbia Journalism Review:

The nonprofit Citizens Awareness Foundation was founded to “empower citizens to exercise their right to know,” according to its mission statement. The South Florida millionaire backing the foundation hired one of the state’s most prominent public records activists to run it, rented office space, and pledged to pay the legal fees to make sure people had access to government records.

But a review of court records and internal communications obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shows that the foundation is less interested in obtaining records and educating the public than in working with a partner law firm to collect cash settlements from every lawsuit filed…. Continue>>>
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December 8, 2014 2:21 PM

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, late in the day, two veteran Tallahassee reporters finally received important public records from the office of Gov. Rick Scott. They had had requested the records, emails, more than three months prior, many weeks before Scott won a narrow re-election victory over former Gov. Charlie Crist.

While candidates might prefer to control the timing of a damaging news report — say, until after an election — Florida law doesn’t provide for that level of control where the release of public records are concerned.

Florida’s Sunshine Law, Florida Statute 119, states that “providing access to public records is a duty of each agency,” and “each agency must provide reasonable public access to records electronically maintained.” Continue>>>
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November 19, 2014 1:36 PM

Controversial professor Steven Salaita, whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded after he made anti-Israel comments on social media, filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that the university has violated the state's open records law.

The lawsuit, filed in Champaign County court, contends the university failed to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act by refusing to produce documents that Salaita's attorneys requested. State law requires government bodies, including public universities, to disclose records related to decisions, policies and other government activity upon request.

Salaita had been offered a tenured position at U. of I., but it was rescinded in August, weeks before he was to start, after he wrote hundreds of anti-Israel tweets during the summer, some of which included profane and inflammatory language. The decision not to hire Salaita was met with backlash from faculty across the country who argued that Salaita was punished for his controversial views. Continue>>>

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October 16, 2014 11:39 PM

Since 2010, the North Dakota University System has violated state open records and open meetings laws 17 times, according to records from the North Dakota Attorney General's office. Now Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen is crying foul on some of those requests, saying they're politically motivated.

ìOpen records law is certainly designed to ensure transparent government,î Skogen told an Oct. 3 meeting of the State Board of Higher Education. ìWe all agree on the need for that, but what has happened is these laws are being used for some politically motivated individuals. Now our communications have become a fishing pond in which these individuals cast wide nets in the hope of finding something to use against political opponents or for political purposes.î

But Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is tasked with enforcing the state's open records laws, said the motivation for open records requests doesn't matter. Continue>>>
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October 3, 2014 10:07 AM

It isn't uncommon for conflicts to arise between the news media and law enforcement agencies over the release of information.

Police are protective of their investigations and worry about showing too much of their hand. News reporters are hard-core advocates of the public's right to know and question anything that stands in the way of gathering information freely. As standoffish as the two groups can sometimes be, there's also a reliance on each other. There are times one can benefit from the other.

That's why there's always been an arm's-length but symbiotic relationship between the two. Every now and then there has to be a little saber-rattling from one side or the other, but both groups are fully aware the law is already set that determines what information must be made publicly available. Continue>>>
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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 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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