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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March 29, 2015 10:49 PM

A South Carolina State University board committee's recent meeting to approve an organizational structure for the institution was illegal, says Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association.

The university was nearing the March 13 deadline to hand in documents to the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges and an approved organizational structure was part of the package required by the accrediting agency.

Trustees failed to vote on it at a meeting March 10. Instead, they gave authority to the board's executive committee to tentatively approve the document. Continue>>>
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March 17, 2015 1:14 PM

Thursday was the first day in more than a month lawmakers could file bills, as the General Assembly has been on a six-week recess.

In advance of the session set to resume Tuesday, several items came in Thursday afternoon.
House Bill 42, sponsored by Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, removes the Freedom of Information Act exemption from the state’s two main universities.

The University of Delaware and Delaware State University currently are immune from certain types of FoIA requests, in accordance with the Delaware Code. Until last year, however, they were almost entirely immune to FoIA filings. Presented in May 2014 by Rep. Kowalko and with several of the same co-sponsors, a nearly identical version of House. Continue>>>
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March 17, 2015 12:53 PM

The University has yet to release dozens of documents related to the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing Title IX investigation of the University, which were requested and paid for in part by The Michigan Daily over two months ago.

The Daily made a request to the University in December under the purview of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, and paid one of two $445 fees in January for the collection of documents related to sexual misconduct — including written complaints, e-mails from administrators and witness statements, among other documents.

The state’s Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, provides for the release of records by public institutions in the state of Michigan, including the University. However, after the documents are requested, FOIA does not specify a deadline by which an institution must produce the documents. Continue>>>
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March 13, 2015 11:27 AM

Newspapers were once the dominant force in dislodging documents and other records from reluctant federal government agencies, but a new crop of media players, advocacy groups and corporate interests now drive the release of information.

The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 was first envisioned as a tool for traditional media to seek documents, data and information they deemed important to public interest. It also was meant to allow ordinary Americans ( http://bit.ly/1DcaxxM ) to seek information from the federal government about themselves.

Nearly a half-century later, news organizations continue to paper federal agencies with written and electronic requests for records and other information under FOIA, a review of agency logs shows, though they are cash strapped and less likely to press their claims in court. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2015 12:36 PM

Last month was open records month, but that doesn't mean you can't still go and view them.

In Iowa, most government records are open to the public.

For city records, you can go to the city clerk. Continue>>>

March 11, 2015 11:31 AM

The Obama administration said Friday it will apply the legal provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to determine what parts of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s official emails when she was secretary of state will be released publicly from her private account. The law contains nine exemptions to censor or withhold parts of records.

The decision means that any finding by State Department reviewers that her private emails included classified or otherwise sensitive data would be indicated, even if the information is marked out. Under that law, reviewers need to specify which of the nine exceptions they’re citing to censor a passage.

Clinton’s extensive use of her own email account and private server has raised questions in the buildup to her expected presidential campaign about whether she adhered to the letter or spirit of accountability rules. Clinton has asked for the full ledger of her work-related correspondence to be made public, a process the State Department said could take months. The emails comprise 55,000 pages. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 1:03 PM

Almost seven weeks into the legislative session, no fewer than 25 bills have been introduced that would affect open meetings, open records or public notice advertising in Iowa.

The bill that has received the most attention is one being fast-tracked that would seal data on Iowa's concealed weapons permit holders. But other bills are lurking in the wings that also would erode openness in our state's government.

Among them:

House study bill 162 would allow anyone to file a written request to prohibit their name, address and telephone number from being accessed on county Internet sites.
Senate file 385 would expand confidentiality of court records, allowing for the expungement of not-guilty verdicts and dismissed criminal charges.
Senate file 292 would make confidential certain juvenile court records.
House study bill 167 would seal records of applications to erect cell phone towers and infrastructure. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 9:25 AM

Can open records laws be used to access all of the e-mails sent by Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state?

A new court ruling this week suggests: probably not.

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization, could not use the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the private email of a government official. The judge reasoned that the act can be used only to get email that is held by a government agency. Continue>>>
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March 5, 2015 4:33 PM

Hillary Rodham Clinton isn’t the only one apparently baffled by newfangled technologies such as email (see nearby). In a withering ruling on Monday, a federal judge scored the Environmental Protection Agency for its contempt for its legal obligation to disclose documents and then lying to the courts about its stonewalling.

In 2012 the right-leaning Landmark Legal Foundation made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for emails related to regulations and the forthcoming election. As many suspected at the time and we now know, the White House commanded the agency to delay major anticarbon rules so the details couldn’t be debated in front of voters, thus undermining political accountability for the economic damage.

The EPA spent years attempting to deny Landmark a meaningful response, starting with the receipt of the FOIA request. The agency’s FOIA officer waited weeks before informing the offices of then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and her deputies of the obligation to retain documents. The agency subsequently refused to search either the official email accounts of top officials or the alias personal email addresses they used to conduct government business—“for reasons still unexplained,” Judge Royce Lamberth observes in a 25-page finding against the agency. Continue>>>
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March 5, 2015 4:15 PM

As a candidate for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton promised a more open and transparent government.

“Well, number one, I want to have a much more transparent government, and I think we now have the tools to make that happen,” Clinton said.

“I want to have as much information about the way our government operates on the Internet so the people who pay for it, the taxpayers of America, can see that,” Clinton said as a presidential candidate on Meet the Press. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 1:07 PM

On June 1 of last year, the Dallas Police Department launched a new records management and field reporting system. Police officials promised it would give the department “improved intelligence-gathering capabilities, increased accountability throughout the investigative process, and improved integration with the District Attorney’s Office.” The new system would also briefly shut down the online records portal. Thirty days tops, they said. No big deal.

“While it is the strong desire of the City of Dallas and the Dallas Police Department to provide timely and accurate public access to report information, every effort must be made to first ensure that we are in compliance with State and Federal laws and guidelines regarding the privacy of certain information,” read a May 28 press release.

Almost three months later, the reports finally came back—kind of. Before the new system, many reports would include a narrative, outlining what allegedly happened during the crime. “Man punched cousin in face.” “Woman shoved 12 Twix bars down her shirt, attempted to walk out of 7-Eleven.” Things like that. Some were just a sentence or two. But others would stretch over a page, adding valuable context. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2015 1:14 AM

Representatives of the University of Connecticut Foundation made an impassioned argument at a legislative hearing Thursday that any law forcing them to open their records to the public — even if donors' name are excluded — would impede their efforts to raise money.

And it seemed from the response of the legislators on the higher-education committee that most — though not all — agreed with that argument.

Daniel Toscano, a member of the foundation board and a donor, said the legislation under consideration, which would make the foundation subject to the state Freedom of Information Act, "will most definitely have a chilling effect on the philanthropy that is essential to building and maintaining a top-notch flagship university. Continue>>>
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