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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January 28, 2015 1:26 AM

A leading advocate of open government is calling on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to reconsider his firing of his predecessor’s appointee as director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records.

The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition said today that Mr. Wolf’s decision last week to oust Erik Arneson and appoint an acting director will have a long-term, negative impact on its integrity. Mr. Arneson was appointed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett a week before he left office.

The coalition says Mr. Wolf’s action could lead to firings by future governors who dislike the agency’s rulings and erode the agency’s authority. Continue>>>
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January 28, 2015 1:09 AM

Three police cars scream down your street and officers stay in your neighbor's home for an hour before leaving.

You want to know what happened, but you don't want to ask the neighbor.

A Freedom of Information Act request for the police report should answer your question, right? Continue>>>
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January 28, 2015 1:06 AM

Ever wonder how much your child's teacher earns? Or how much the city spent to repave your street? Or whether your neighbor has ever been cited for not keeping up his property?

The answers to these questions are found in records owned by the public, which are supposed to be there for the asking. But accessing those records is often more difficult than it needs to be.

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1976 as a way to ensure public access to government records. Many states and the federal government took up the cause of expanding transparency after the Watergate scandal. Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 1:09 PM

The Tech Center at Oyster Point development was promoted as a critical economic development initiative with the potential to create a good many jobs. Its construction will radically change one of the most prominent intersections in Newport News. And ushering it to completion will require a substantial public investment by city taxpayers.

The newspaper continues to ask questions about the project and expects Newport News officials to be open and transparent in response.

So although this editorial board has been a proponent of the effort, we have to wonder: If it's such a good idea, why does the city administration get jumpy every time a reporter asks about it? Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:50 PM

People seeking to request open records from state agencies can now go online to do so.

State administrators opened the Open Records Portal at http://openrecords.utah.gov last week in an effort to make it easier for residents to identify which agency is responsible for which records and to submit a request.

Developed in response to legislation passed last year, the portal was created by the Department of Administrative Services, Division of State Archives, with consultation from the Utah Transparency Board. Continue>>>
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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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