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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December 18, 2014 1:08 PM

Tom Schenk quietly moved into the role of chief data officer for the City of Chicago in September, more than a year after Brett Goldstein vacated that role, city officials said Monday.

Schenk previously served as the city’s director of analytics and oversaw its open data portal.

It is now officially his job to carry out the objectives detailed in the city’s Open Data Report. Schenk said the city made strides in 2014 in releasing red-light camera data, launching an Open Data Portal Status blog and using text mining to identify popular Freedom of Information Act requests. Continue>>>
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December 18, 2014 1:04 PM

Nothing comes easy for the current Congress, which has already left its mark as one of the least productive in U.S. history.

The Fighting 113th has agreed in principle on the need to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, a key government-transparency law that guarantees public access to federal records.

But House leaders last week shrugged off an opportunity to schedule the Senate’s FOIA Improvement Act for a vote, despite bipartisan prodding from Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who sponsored similar House legislation. Continue>>>
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December 18, 2014 12:58 PM

Anyone can use the federal Freedom of Information Act to request records about prisons owned and operated by the government. Information about prisoner demographics, violent incidents, and prison budgets are all obtainable. But privately run facilities—even those that hold federal prisoners—are exempt from the law. Last week, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced legislation to change that. On December 10, she introduced a new bill, the Private Prison Information Act. If passed, it would force any nonfederal prison holding federal prisoners to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2013, 41,200 federal convicts—19 percent of the entire federal prison population—were housed in private facilities. That year, Corrections Corporation of America, the largest prison contractor in the United States, collected more than $584 million from the federal government.

Passing Lee's bill will be difficult, if not impossible. From 2005 to 2012, Democrats (including Lee) introduced five separate bills that aimed to apply FOIA to private prisons. All of them failed. With the GOP—which has been generally friendly to the prison industry—controlling both houses of Congress beginning next year, the new bill will likely meet a similar end. Continue>>>
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December 18, 2014 12:49 PM

Early this year, the Air Force cracked down on FOIA requests for unfiltered radar records tracking air traffic across the United States. In its decision to withhold data that had been accessible for god knows how long, Air Combat Command implied that the release of certain computerized documents — in this case, known as En Route Intelligence Tool, or ERIT data — would expose vulnerabilities in coverage.

The timing of this seemed a little arbitrary, considering how those inferred vulnerabilities had been available to homicidal fanatics and other species of devilish riff-raff for more than a decade after the 9/11 catastrophe.

But a closer look at more recent history suggests the clampdown went into effect because UFO researchers, who in 2008 had been enormously successful in reconstructing one of the most detailed incidents on record, were getting useful material lawfully through military sources at the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (84th RADES) in Utah. De Void wanted a bit more information and sent this email to the USAF’s designated point person, Anh Trinh, on June 3: Continue>>>

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December 18, 2014 12:44 PM

Freedom of Information Act reform is dead for this Congressional session. As House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) closed the last meeting of the 113th Congress, the FOIA bill was nowhere to be found despite pleas from both sides of the aisle.

The Senate last week passed updated bipartisan FOIA legislation and urged House lawmakers to pass the bill before the current session ends.

The bill (S.2520) would have forced agencies to take affirmative steps to make documents public rather than waiting for someone to request the document and then make a decision. Continue>>>
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December 18, 2014 12:27 PM

In a binding decision published on November 25, 2014, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) found the Village of Winnetka in violation of FOIA after the Village denied a request that asked for a copy of a Village employee's employment application and resume. The Village denied the request and cited FOIA exemptions, including under section 7(1)(c) of the Act. It is important for public bodies to be aware that the personal privacy exemption under section 7(1)(c) requires the balancing of four factors to determine whether an individual's privacy interests outweigh the interests of the public in disclosure.

William Buell submitted a FOIA request to the Village seeking "a copy of the completed employment application and resume for James Bernahl for the position of Assistant Director of Public Works and Engineering." The Village denied Buell's FOIA request and cited FOIA exemptions, including section 7(1)(c). Buell filed a Request for Review with the Public Access Bureau that expressed concern that Bernahl's hiring may have been in violation of Illinois law.

Under section 7(1)(c), the Village argued that Bernahl's employment application and resume were exempt because the employment history and other information in the resume and employment application did not pertain to the public duties of public employees. The Village cited several cases in its argument, but those cases interpreted an earlier version of the personal privacy exemption. Prior to January 1, 2010, the personal privacy exemption was found in section 7(1)(b) of FOIA and exempted the disclosure information that would be considered an invasion of personal privacy. However, the Illinois General Assembly enacted Public Act 96-542, effective January 1, 2010, that replaced former section 7(1)(b) with the current section 7(1)(c). Continue>>>
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December 17, 2014 5:25 PM

The Wichita City Council can decide to increase transparency in regards to spending, or let it remain being spent in secret.

The City of Wichita has three surrogate quasi-governmental agencies that are almost totally taxpayer-funded, specifically Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Each agency contends it is not a “public agency” as defined in Kansas law, and therefore does not have to fulfill records requests.

These agencies spend considerable sums of tax money. This week the city will consider funding Go Wichita with a budget of $2,356,851 for 2015. That is not all the taxpayer money this agency will spend, as earlier this year the council voted to increase the city’s hotel tax by 2.75 cents per dollar, with the proceeds going to Go Wichita. City documents indicate that tax is estimated to generate $2.3 million per year. Continue>>>
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December 17, 2014 5:14 PM

In response to recent emails and phone calls I have received regarding my “yes” vote on HB 3796, I would like to explain why this legislation will, in fact, increase access to public records and improve the way voluminous or large Freedom of Information Act requests are processed.

HB 3796, which was vetoed by the governor but overridden by the Senate (49-1-0) and House of Representatives (77-36-1) this fall, will increase government transparency by allowing public bodies to more efficiently respond to FOIA requests for information that is available on the Internet while giving public bodies more time and flexibility to deal with voluminous FOIA requests.

By allowing public bodies to refer FOIA requesters to public websites for valuable government information, it will save time and money for requesters and public bodies. It is anticipated many public bodies will choose to make public records available online rather than expend valuable and scarce resources to deal with routine FOIA requests, which will increase transparency and availability of public records. By allowing more time and flexibility to deal with voluminous requests, public bodies will remain responsible for making public records accessible, but will be able to manage large FOIA requests in a way that effectively uses the resources of the public body. Continue>>>
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December 17, 2014 5:09 PM

This week Citizens United sued the State Department in federal court over its unlawful withholding of documents relating to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

We are currently in pre-production for a sequel to our landmark film Hillary: The Movie. This film will take a hard look at Hillary Clinton’s career and will tell the truth about her failed record as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.

We’ve filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for documents relating to Hillary’s time at the State Department. These requests have gone largely unanswered. What is the State Department trying to hide? Why won’t the Obama Administration prioritize transparency when it comes to taxpayer-funded public documents? The public has a right to know – yes, even if it is about Hillary Clinton. Continue>>> 

December 17, 2014 5:05 PM

A crime fraud exception to the federal open records law does not apply to emails sought by immigration lawyers who say government lawyers repeatedly deceived the courts about the ability of removed immigrants to return to the United States once they win a second chance in immigration court, a judge has ruled.

Southern District Judge Jed Rakoff (See Profile) denied the summary judgment motion of a coalition led by the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild for 27 documents under the Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. §552.

The ruling came in an extended dispute over whether government lawyers have misled courts on the chance that indigent deportees could actually afford to return to the United States for a hearing on remand before an immigration judge. Continue>>>

December 17, 2014 4:52 PM

Advocates for greater openness in government were frustrated after Congress failed to update the Freedom of Information Act despite bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

Without a new law, government agencies are likely to continue stonewalling requests for records and other information, said Amy Bennett, assistant director of OpenTheGovernment.org, an advocacy group.

"The only thing that changes an agency's behavior is an act of Congress," she said. Continue>>>
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December 17, 2014 4:37 PM

The state Supreme Court has ruled that arbitrators are not covered by the state’s Freedom of Information laws, denying the public’s right to know what evidence is presented in arbitration hearings between teacher unions and school boards.

The Republican-American reports (http://bit.ly/1uuGtn8 ) that the case stems from a 2010 arbitration hearing between the Torrington Education Association and Torrington Board of Education.

The Republican-American filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission after arbitrators barred a reporter from attending a portion of an arbitration hearing. Continue>>>

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