FOI Advocate News Blog

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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 14, 2014 8:26 AM

Drivers caught texting in Tennessee face fines up to $50, while those who use cellphones in classrooms or courtrooms may be forced to hand them over. Texting during church service is generally a no-no and considered down-right rude while dining with friends.

So, is it proper for lawmakers to converse with one another, their family or constituents via text during a public meeting? The answer appears to depend upon the message, open government proponents say, although getting to the message is quite another problem.

“This is a new one,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director at Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “Public officials ought to be very, very, careful in texting or emailing each other during a public meeting, because it does seem to be basically taking what should be open discussion into some type of private discussion … a veiled discussion right there in the public meeting.” Continue>>>
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April 14, 2014 8:13 AM

New state legislation is being drafted to require state agencies to comply with the section of the open-records law that calls for posting information online.

Part of New York’s Freedom of Information Law requires each state agency to maintain up-to-date “subject matter lists” — indexes of all records maintained by the agency — and to post them on the Internet.

A study by The Ithaca Journal of 86 state agencies, published in a March 15 Watchdog Report, found 79 agencies were not in compliance with that part of the law.

Two-thirds of the agencies had not posted a subject matter list online at all, according to the study. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2014 8:13 AM

The Emirates Identity Authority, the United Nations Public Administration Network and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs will jointly conduct the first Open Government Data Forum on April 28 and 29 at Ritz Carlton Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Abdulaziz Al Maamari, Director of Government communications and Community, Emirates ID, said 27 keynote speakers from 15 countries, mainly Europe, USA, and the region, will attend the meeting.

“The forum’s key topic revolves around the open data policy and how to allow it to customers in seamless and easy-to-use methods through making all elements and information available within a framework of content that is open for the public to use and reuse, leveraging thereby their level of knowledge and expertise.” Continue>>>
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April 14, 2014 8:12 AM

Secretary of State Ross Miller has found himself oddly under fire for aggressively upholding campaign disclosure laws, odd because some of his critics are self-professed champions of government transparency.

Miller, a Democrat, has been targeted for suing the Republican-aligned Alliance for America’s Future, a Virginia group that refused to register as a political action committee despite buying nearly $200,000 in political ads in 2010 supporting Brian Sandoval’s campaign for governor.

A District Court judge in Carson City agreed with Miller, fining the group $109,560 and ordering it to register as a political action committee. The group appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court but dropped the appeal last month, settling with Miller’s office. In the settlement, the group agreed to register as a political action committee, file campaign disclosure reports and pay a fine of $40,000. Continue>>>
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Nevada
April 14, 2014 8:10 AM

A resolution has been reached in the case of an Iron County Medical Care Facility (ICMCF) resident who filed a civil lawsuit against the facility, alleging that it had not lawfully complied with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Enacted federally in 1966, FOIA allows citizens to obtain access to public records with some exceptions. The state of Michigan passed its own version of FOIA in 1976.

ICMCF's attorney Kenneth Lane had claimed that resident Patrick Ward's prolific FOIA requests to the facility, which amounted to about one per day, were "overly broad" and "overly burdensome." As a result, he advised ICMCF to discontinue responding to the requests. Continue>>>
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FOIA, Montana
April 14, 2014 8:09 AM

Sometimes important public opinion research does not receive the attention it deserves. The Global Opening Government Survey – a study undertaken through collaboration between the World Bank’s Open Government Practice and RIWI Corporation, a Toronto-based company – is one such survey.

Global in scope, the Global Opening Government Survey spanned 63 countries on every continent. It asked the fundamental question: Do citizens perceive their governments to be open, as well as why, and how they want government to be more open.

Government openness is an important democratic requirement; it enables citizens to make informed choices, to question policies and hold politicians to account. In this sense, the extent to which citizens perceive government as open may be a litmus test for a healthy, democratic environment. Continue>>>
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April 11, 2014 10:41 AM

In July last year, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ruled to keep secret a contract detailing the new relationship forged by the University of Connecticut and Webster Bank. The case highlights questions that journalists must grapple with in the age of rising higher-education costs and the virtual arms race among universities to outspend one another in their efforts to attract the nation’s best and brightest. As this pressure increases, universities have sought new ways to line their coffers, inevitably driving their searches increasingly to private entities. For public universities, this new trend is creating a friction between the state residents who seek transparency for their tax dollars, and the university administrators who are under mounting pressure to compete with private universities while keeping tuition low.

The University of Connecticut dotted i’s and crossed t’s with a company called IMG College in 2008. A 33-page contract outlines their deal: IMG pays UConn more than $8 million a year to handle its sports marketing and promotion and up to $15 million in royalties. Part of that marketing relationship involves signing private companies to put their logo on UConn athletic signage and posters. This provides revenue to the university while in theory generating new customers for the business. Before 2012, the university’s key sponsorship deal was with People’s Bank. Its logo was on every poster, pamphlet, schedule card and doorway to Gampel Pavillion. The Connecticut-based bank has a net income of more nearly $200 million and employs about 5,000 people — and opened up branches on UConn’s campus, including one inside the university’s Co-op.

In 2012, that all changed. IMG leveraged its new control of UConn sponsorship rights to sign on Webster Bank as the new headline money backer of UConn athletics. In a matter of days, People’s Bank signage was stripped from sports fields, banners, and signs and replaced with Webster Bank logos. People’s Bank ATMs were removed from around campus and replaced with blue and gold Webster machines. The bank publicly announced its new status as “The Official Bank of UConn,” and the school sent out a press release boasting: Continue>>>
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April 11, 2014 10:40 AM

Every year, state governments spend tens of billions of dollars through contracts for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, and other expenditures. Accountability and public scrutiny are necessary to ensure that the public can trust that state funds are well spent.

In recent years, state governments across the country have created transparency websites that provide checkbook-level information on government spending – meaning that users can view the payments made to individual companies as well as details about the purchased goods, services or other public benefits. These websites allow residents and watchdog groups to ensure that taxpayers get their money’s worth.

Last year was the first time that all 50 states operated websites to make information on state spending accessible to the public. These web portals continue to improve. For instance, in 2014, 38 states’ transparency websites also provide checkbook-level detail on subsidies for economic development. Many states are also disclosing information that was previously “off budget” and are making it easy for outside researchers to download and analyze large data sets about government spending. Continue>>>
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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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April 11, 2014 10:25 AM

Back in 2011, the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued to enforce a FOIA for documents on FBI’s investigation of WikiLeaks supporters. In response, the government cited an ongoing investigation exemption. But they also cited a statutory exemption, claiming some law prevented them from releasing the records on investigations into WikiLeaks supporters. Unusually, DOJ refused to name the law in question. For that reason, and because my suspicions of how Section 215 gets used suggested it would make a spectacular tool for investigating a group of WikiLeaks supporters, I suggested that the statute was likely Section 215.

Since then, we’ve seen indications of NSA involvement in the investigation into WikiLeaks, though without any details from before EPIC’s FOIA.

And until March 11, that’s where things stood, with the government claiming it couldn’t release records about its investigation into completely innocent supporters of a publishing outlet and the judge (who had been newly assigned to the case in April 2013) doing nothing with the government’s motion for summary judgement. Continue>>>
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April 11, 2014 10:22 AM

Montana is one of the most improved states in transparency and online access to government spending information, a study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund showed.

The report, released this week, gave Montana a transparency score of 86 or a B. Montana’s score was 57 or a D in 2013. Montana was ranked as one of the top 10 most improved states in government transparency by the group.

The study said Montana improved its website to provide centrally accessible information on the millions of dollars in tax expenditures such as deductions and tax exemptions and exclusions given to individuals and corporations. Likewise, the state website now lists economic development subsidies, which empowers Montanans to monitor the awards given to companies to grow the economy. Continue>>>
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April 11, 2014 10:21 AM

West Virginia got an unfair grade on a national survey of transparency in government spending websites in the 50 states, state auditor Glen Gainer said Thursday. A report released this week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave the state’s transparencywv.org website a grade of C for transparency, giving the site high marks for easy-to-access information on state contracts and spending, but deducting points for a lack of data on economic development subsidies.

The state received only 8 of a possible 27 points for transparency in economic development subsidies, including tax credits, grants and other incentives to attract business investment and had another 4 possible points deducted for failing to disclose expenditures that, by law, cannot be posted on the website.

However, Gainer said much of the economic development data the U.S. PIRG report said is missing from the state website was added to the site earlier this year. “We tried to tell them, ‘here it is,’ but we didn’t get any credit for it,” Gainer said Thursday. “There’s some fallacies in the way they came up with the score for us,” he added. Continue>>>
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West Virginia
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