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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September 30, 2016 9:30 AM

The investigation by the Reader and Lucy Parsons Labs into the Chicago Police Department's use of civil forfeiture money began with a single, tantalizing detail in a single FOIA'd document.

Lucy Parsons Labs is a Chicago-based nonprofit made up of technologists and activists dedicated to government transparency. In September 2014 we began looking into CPD's use of IMSI catchers, powerful surveillance devices commonly called by their brand name, Stingray. These devices mimic cell-phone towers and force any cell phones in the area to give up personally identifying information—including phone numbers and unique device identifiers—all without an owner's knowledge or consent.

In the purchasing memo for one such device, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, we saw a reference to an account name we hadn't previously seen.

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September 30, 2016 9:19 AM

VCOG's newsletter is a round-up of stories and editorials about open government and freedom of information issues from Virgina and across the country.  Find their September 29 issue here.

September 30, 2016 8:59 AM

In the wake of recent police shootings, the public outcry for transparency has come head to head with law enforcement agencies’ interpretation of freedom of information laws.

The statutes outline the public’s right to records produced by government agencies but also include exemptions for law enforcement records. Those are meant for such situations as protecting the identity of a confidential informant or keeping investigative techniques hidden from criminals.

When incorrectly used, however, the exemptions can result in records being kept out of the public eye.

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September 29, 2016 11:21 AM

Since 2009, the Administration has made significant progress opening up data sets that have never before been public, and creating new pathways to civic engagement. Today, students are able to compare the cost of college with other significant data points, such as graduation rates and average salaries of graduates to determine where to get the most bang for their buck. Communities can map demographic, income, and school data to promote Fair Housing. Patients can find information on the safety and cost of hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians, empowering them to make smarter health care choices. These diverse tools benefit different groups of people, industries, and communities, yet all rely on one thing: open data.

Managing data as an asset and making it available, discoverable, and usable — in a word, “open” — has served to strengthen our democracy, promote government efficiencies, and improve citizens’ quality of life. With open data, we identify gaps and look for solutions to the most pressing challenges we face as a Nation. Open data has the power to make our economy grow and our local communities thrive.

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September 29, 2016 11:19 AM

A government transparency expert has said the Alvin, Huger, Longridge and Pineville-Russellville departments have disregarded South Carolina law even after the agencies have been given multiple opportunities over three months to make the information public.

In Berkeley County, 26 rural fire departments — which operate as nonprofits — are contracted through the county to provide fire service to unincorporated areas.

Because those departments operate using public money, they are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

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September 29, 2016 11:15 AM

The Ohio Court of Claims today begins accepting public records complaints, which staff lawyers will attempt to resolve with mediation between complaining parties and government entities.

If mediation fails, a prompt binding ruling will be issued by a “special master” with an expertise in Sunshine laws. His ruling then can be appealed to a court official for legal review.

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September 28, 2016 9:23 AM

Todd Fosse, the Pacific County undersheriff who was fired last year, has filed a lawsuit in Grays Harbor Superior Court against his former employer — Pacific County and the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office — and alleges the county failed to fulfill a public records request that may answer questions about his termination.

The complaint, filed in Grays Harbor County Superior Court on Aug. 23, alleges Pacific County failed to provide a timely response to five public records requests that encompassed thousands of emails, texts, voicemails, notes, logs and other documents while Fosse was employed. The first public records request was dated April 8, 2015, about two weeks after Fosse’s dismissal.

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September 28, 2016 9:10 AM

On Sept. 12, the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied the City of Claremore’s petition to appeal a ruling that the city violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

The city will now owe additional attorneys’ fees to the lawfirm of Ward, Lee & Coats, P.L.C.

In July 2014, Rogers County District Court heard testimony related to an open records act lawsuit filed by Ward, Lee & Coats, P.L.C against the city, for failure to provide documents in a reasonable amount of time.

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September 28, 2016 9:08 AM

The New England First Amendment Coalition is pleased to announce its incoming class of fellows for the 2016 New England First Amendment Institute.

This three-day institute is open each year to 25 New England journalists and provides the support and training necessary to become accomplished investigative reporters, well-versed in the freedom of information laws that govern today’s difficult reporting landscape.

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September 27, 2016 10:39 AM

Amid a growing outcry over police shootings of black men, many states are taking actions to restrict public access to police video shot by dashboard and body cameras.

In North Carolina — where Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot last week by Charlotte police — a new law takes effect Saturday that some experts say will make it more difficult for the public to see video shot by police.

It's one of about two dozen states and the District of Columbia that have introduced or passed legislation in the past two years that impact public records laws, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said Sunday.

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September 27, 2016 10:36 AM

The Department of Public Safety denied all or parts of 40 out of 59 record requests it received during the first six months of 2016, a Des Moines Register investigation found.  And of the 40 denials, 28 were based on the investigative file exemption - regardless of whether the case is closed, remains under investigation, or went cold three decades ago.

A spot check showed that local law enforcement agencies rarely used the dame exemption.  Des Moines police had no record of any requests it has denied citing that exemption in the first six months of 2016.  The Polk County sherrif had two. 

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September 27, 2016 10:18 AM

The Michigan State House of Representatives passed House Bills 5469-5478 on Wednesday to expand and strengthen the state’s existing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws by subjecting the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor to FOIA laws and creating the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA).

“Being transparent in government on the front end is easier in the long run because it removes all doubts,” Michigan State Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said. “This package of bills carefully balances the public’s right to know while at the same respecting the privacy of constituents who want to confidentially share a personal issue or concern with their state Legislator. It’s time to apply transparency laws to how we conduct business here in the Legislature and how the governor conducts business in his office.”

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