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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April 11, 2014 10:37 AM

The state Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies can charge an hourly fee for locating public documents requested under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The court ruled 4-1 in a decision released Thursday.

The justices overturned a Kanawha County circuit judge’s ruling that said the city of Nitro didn’t have the authority to enact an ordinance to establish an hourly search fee for documents. The circuit judge had concluded the city could only charge for the cost of copying the documents, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

The justices said the Legislature has previously approved rules that allow various state agencies to charge search fees in FOIA document requests. Continue>>>
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December 31, 2013 1:01 AM

 From The Bulletin: Four years ago, the Attorney General’s right-hand man on all issues dealing with government transparency created a comprehensive list of exemptions to the state’s public records laws.

He found more than 400.

“I think, frankly, the volume … is surprising,” said Michael Kron, who still works at the state’s department of justice, but was working under Democratic Attorney General John Kroger at the time. Two years after Kron compiled the list, in 2011, Kroger launched an unsuccessful campaign to improve government transparency.

Continue>>

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August 27, 2013 10:25 AM

From News-Gazette.com:  City Attorney Fred Stavins said that, even if they are public records, deleted text messages are impossible to recover, and the city's legal department provided The News-Gazette with its research to prove it.

In December 2012, city officials called around to various cellphone providers to determine how long those records are retained in the cell company's files.

[. . .]

AT&T: No records are kept of customers' text messages — that data can only be accessed on a customer's phone.

Continue . . .

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August 13, 2013 9:30 AM

From Des Moines Register:  The Iowa Department of Public Safety now says it will not charge The Des Moines Register the overtime rate for an employee to gather data in response to a public records request.

The decision came a day after the newspaper filed three complaints with the Iowa Public Information Board over record costs and access issues involving the departments of Public Safety and Human Services.

Public Safety officials had previously said they were told by the Iowa attorney general’s office to bill the employee time to gather and prepare the data requested by the newspaper at an overtime rate of approximately $59 an hour.

Get the rest here.

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August 6, 2013 9:29 AM

From The Daily Progress:  A shift to electronic filing for financial disclosure forms for 25,000 state workers and elected officials means it could cost the public dramatically more to get the records.

Searching 2008 to 2011 disclosure records for 525 Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control employees, for example, cost The Daily Progress nothing. The price tag for accessing the same documents for 2012 would have been $1,200, according to state officials.

Last year’s shift to electronic filing leaves it to Patrick Mayfield, the sole employee and director of the state's Conflict of Interest Office, to download the forms one-by-one from a state server and then print them individually.

[...]

"The state's decision on how to manage their records should not create a cost passed on to consumers," said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. "Those documents exist so that people can see them."

See the rest here.

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August 2, 2013 11:23 AM

From the Blog of Legal Times:  Lawyers for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the digital library JSTOR continue to press their fight to intervene in a public records lawsuit to assert control over the scope of information the government is planning to release about the late Aaron Swartz.

In the dispute in Washington federal district court, MIT and JSTOR argue they should have some say over the ability to keep certain details secret before the government provides any information to the public. Wired investigative reporter Kevin Poulsen sued the Department of Homeland Security in April under the Freedom of Information Act. The suit now tests just how big a voice a third party can have in a public records case.

Get the rest here ... 

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July 31, 2013 12:11 PM

From Houston Chronicle:  Kentucky child safety officials have testified that their main reason for redacting information in files of children who have been severely abused or neglected is to protect the privacy of families involved.

Department of Community Based Services Teresa James said protecting the privacy of the families helps them to heal and rebuild.

"If I release records, it makes me culpable in the impact it has on families," James said. "I don't believe it is the agency's job to revictimize."

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader report the testimony came Monday during a hearing in Frankfort over whether the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is following the correct procedure for redacting information in the files that a judge has ordered turned over to the newspapers.

Lawyers for the newspapers argue that the agency is blacking out more information than the judge approved.

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July 30, 2013 9:54 AM

From The Republic:  The University of Missouri has prevailed in a public records lawsuit filed by an education advocacy group that sought access to professors' copies of course outlines.

A Boone County Circuit Court judge recently rejected the National Council on Teacher Quality's efforts to compel release of copies of course syllabuses under the state's open records laws. University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe disclosed the favorable ruling in an email to university employees last week.

The council sought the records as part of its nationwide effort to monitor what aspiring teachers learn in college. The university contended that the documents are intellectual property legally protected under federal copyright law.

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March 25, 2013 10:48 AM

Opinion from the Logan Banner:

When West Virginia House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, spoke at the West Virginia Press Association’s annual legislative breakfast last week he said West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law needed to be more open to allow citizens and journalists even more access to documents from public bodies.

Being true to his word, Armstead introduced a bill meant to make internal letters and memos from government bodies available to members of the public, unless the documents fall under another exemption of the state’s Freedom of Information Act law.

[...]

Then, on Tuesday, House Bill 2911 was introduced. ... 

It seeks an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for all records pertaining to the issuance, renewal, expiration, suspension or revocation of a license to carry a concealed weapon. It carries the following note: “The purpose of this bill is to exempt records of concealed weapon license applications and issuance from disclosure under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act.”

 

March 22, 2013 11:03 AM

From University of Colorado Journalism and Mass Communication:

Ryan Gabrielson of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch has won the 2013 Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting.

Gabrielson won for “Broken Shield” , an investigative series that exposed shoddy police work at California institutions for the disabled. His stories chronicle the activities of a special police force that patrols California’s five state developmental centers – taxpayer-funded institutions for patients with severe autism and cerebral palsy.

The report found that dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside the institutions, in some cases by staff members, and that investigators assigned to the special police force repeatedly failed to follow routine investigative procedures. As a result, suspects were not prosecuted and molestations of patients continued. In another case, a caregiver was suspected of using a stun gun to wound a dozen patients but police waited at least nine days to interview the suspect – even though a loaded handgun and Taser were found in his car soon after the incident was reported. No criminal charges were brought.

The project prompted several major changes in state law and regulations. It has already won the 2013 George Polk Award for state reporting. Gabrielson also won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize while working at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona.

The Nakkula award is sponsored by the University of Colorado Journalism & Mass Communication program.

March 15, 2013 10:52 AM

From Gainesville.com:

Most people who are used to sending text messages fire them off without a second thought.

But for public officials, the technology brings more than just convenient communication. It also raises concerns and possible conflicts between personal privacy and open records laws.

In recent years, text messages have figured prominently in some high-profile official misconduct investigations. They revealed key details of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's infamous time in office, for instance.

Closer to home, a probe showed text exchanges between Orange County commissioners and lobbyists while the board was considering a sick-pay initiative last September.

As this week marks Sunshine Week, which emphasizes open government and freedom of information, text messaging is becoming an increasingly important and controversial issue in the realm of public records.

March 1, 2013 12:03 PM

From Nieman Journalism Lab:

The National Archives is sitting on massive amounts of information — from specs for NASA projects to geological surveys to letters from presidents. But there’s a problem: “These records are held hostage,” said Bill Mayer, executive for research services for the National Archives and Records Administration.

“Hostage” might be a strong word for a organization responsible for 4.5 million cubic feet of physical documents and more than 500 terabytes of data, most which can be accessed online or by walking into one of their facilities around the country. But the challenge, Mayer explains, is making NARA’s vast stockpile more open and more discoverable. “They’re held hostage in a number of centers around the country — they’re held hostage by format,” Mayer said.

Mayer and other officials from the National Archives visited MIT recently to talk about how the agency is trying to increase access to records and deal with the challenges, and legal complications, of electronic documents. The archive is responsible for records from executive branch agencies, courts, Congress, and presidents. It preserves only 5 percent of the federal government’s records, and there’s a 15-year lag before records are available. But an estimated 30,000 linear feet of new records come in from agencies annually.

 

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