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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July 22, 2014 7:08 AM

If the police shoot a man, saying that he was shooting at them, but the autopsy shows the man had no gunshot residue on his hands and that he was shot in the back, don’t you think the public has a right to know about it?

If it had happened in your community, to someone you know, or within the police or sheriff’s department on which you depend, wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want to demand further investigation? Isn’t this information crucial to making sure our government and police are acting properly?

The S.C. Supreme Court doesn’t think so. It ruled last week that autopsy reports, even when they are prepared at taxpayer expense, are medical records and can be kept private. This misguided ruling is a blow against open government, accountability and an informed public. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:07 AM

A New Jersey judge ruled Monday that Gov. Chris Christie's administration must honor an activist's public records requests for requests filed by others.

The decision from Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson finds fault with the state's recent strategy of denying such requests on the grounds that people who ask for government records have a privacy right. A state government lawyer said that people can use government records requests to explore lawsuits or dig up dirt on political opponents — things that Jacobson said need not be confidential.

"I can't see any expectation of privacy, whether you're attorney or not, or a newspaper person who's trying to get a scoop or not," Jacobson said in her ruling from the bench Tuesday before a nearly empty courtroom. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:05 AM

Maybe the wisest thing state lawmakers did this year was require that Washington officialdom learn some fundamentals about open government.

All elected policymakers and records officers must now get formal training on the state’s Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act within 90 days of taking office. They also have to take a refresher every four years.

Here’s a quick primer from an open-government point of view:

• If a member of the public asks for a public record, turn it over. The public owns it, not your agency. Really.

• If the document is potentially embarrassing, turn it over anyway. If you think it’s embarrassing now, just wait until a judge orders you to release it after you’ve tried to hide it from the public for six months. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:04 AM

These are the kind of backroom deals that make people angry and distrustful of government.

In the final hours of the legislative session, state lawmakers crafted a pension law change that gives Louisiana's state police superintendent and one other trooper a sizable retirement boost, with no public debate of the implications or the cost. The price tag is estimated to be $300,000.

The deal was struck in a six-person legislative committee behind closed doors, with the bill's sponsor saying he had no understanding what the law change would do and no one directly taking ownership of the proposal. "Either somebody's not being candid or somebody didn't read this bill. That much is clear," said state Treasurer John Kennedy, who has raised concerns about the legislation. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:02 AM

Joseph Wood has the right to know about the lethal-injection drugs that will be used if he is executed on Wednesday. He should also know about the training of the execution team and how the execution protocol was developed.

Withholding that information is not simply violating Wood's right to know. It is violating the rights of all of us.

Arizona's plan to execute Wood is in flux because a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Saturday the public has a right to know how the death penalty will be carried out. The state plans to ask the full court to consider the opinion. A preliminary injunction on Wood's execution could be lifted by Wednesday if the state releases the information. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:01 AM

Washington D.C.has launched a new effort to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. A new online portal will make it possible for individuals to submit requests and have them processed online. The new portal, powered by “FOIAXpress,” is the District’s first-ever citywide FOIA processing system. Mayor Gray also issued an executive order that mandates that the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) hire a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to assist in the deployment and to help coordinate additional open data programming.

At its launch, more than 50 District agencies will be included. Additional agencies will be added to the system in the next fiscal year.

The new DC Government Public FOIA Portal will allow requesters to submit public records requests for any of the participating agencies to a centralized website. The requests will be assigned a unique tracking number, and users will be able to track the status of the request. The system will also permit the District to generate reports to determine whether agencies are meeting their FOIA obligations in a timely manner. Other documents and data sets will be published to an online reading room. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:00 AM

Interview with Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He is the co-founder of RootsAction.org. He joins us from Ithaca, New York.

WORONCZUK: So, Jeff, what would you say to those who say that encouraging government employees to blow the whistle outside of official channels is going to disrupt the ability of the government to do this kind of surveillance that it needs to protect American citizens against terrorism?

COHEN: Well, what we've learned from Edward Snowden and William Binney and Thomas Drake and all these NSA whistleblowers is, if you go through official channels and just complain to your supervisors, you get reprimanded, that the only way anything changes is if you go outside the system and go to journalists and tell the American public. Edward Snowden's revelations have led to a huge national debate. He tried to go within channels. Earlier NSA whistleblowers did.

You know, we live in a free society still, and journalism is a key check on power. And journalism has always relied on confidential sources who saw something wrong and went to a journalist and said something. We're trying to protect freedom of information, freedom of the press with this campaign to tell whistleblowers--. I mean, to me, if you're an active citizen, it's not enough to vote, it's not enough to back candidates, it's not enough to maybe organize a protest. Part of being an active citizen today in an era of secrecy, surveillance, constant war, part of being an active citizen is getting people inside government, inside big corporations, who see something unethical, see something wrong, see something criminal, to go to a journalist and say something. Continue>>>
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July 18, 2014 9:39 AM

A Sikh group today asked US authorities to reveal their use of ethnic slurs after a document leaked by Edward Snowden showed intelligence agents using an anti-Muslim epithet.

The Sikh Coalition filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act seeking all emails since the September 11, 2001 attacks by employees of the FBI and the National Security Agency that use slurs.

The investigative news site The Intercept, citing documents from former contractor Snowden, revealed last week that the agencies had spied on Muslim Americans and that one internal memo used the fictitious name "Mohammed Raghead" as an example of a target.

Sikhs, whose religion requires men to wear turbans, have faced a wave of violence since the September 11 attacks, sometimes by assailants who mistake them for Muslim extremists. In 2012, a white supremacist shot dead six Sikhs at their temple in Wisconsin. Continue>>>
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July 18, 2014 9:38 AM

WIVB News 4 Investigates wants to know how the New York State Thruway Authority is spending some of its toll money. Last December News 4 filed a New York Freedom of Information Law request asking to see the last three years of expenses for the agency’s top executives and the authority’s board of directors.

However, even nearly seven months later, the Thruway Authority has refused to release records that News 4 believes should be public. The records are related to the expenses of the board and executives who run the authority.

Drivers spoken to said they share our frustration. “That does not surprise me at all. Government transparency is the buzzword of politicians, but it means absolutely nothing,” said driver Matt Williams. “Good luck with [getting] that information,” Robert Minick said. “It sounds like Washington here; keep it a secret,” driver Dave Braley suggested. Continue>>>
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July 18, 2014 9:37 AM

Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country reported more than 500 incidents last year where patients were gravely injured or died as a result of the care they received.

Data obtained by the Washington Free Beacon through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows 575 “institutional disclosures of adverse events”—the bureaucratic phrase for reporting a serious mistake—at VA hospitals in fiscal year 2013.

According to the Veterans Health Administration ethics handbook, such disclosures are required when “an adverse event has occurred during the patient’s care that resulted in or is reasonably expected to result in death or serious injury.” Continue>>>
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July 18, 2014 9:36 AM

The South Carolina state Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has denied a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from NBC Charlotte for jailhouse video of the second inmate to die in the same restraint chair in the same York County Detention Center.

The WCNC-TV Investigative Team filed the FOI request seeking video depicting the last hours of the life of Joshua Grose, arrested for the murder of his mother and a neighbor woman in October.

Corrections Officer James L. Moore repeatedly punched Grose in the abdomen to force him to sit back to be strapped down in a restraint chair. Grose died in the chair after repeatedly banging his head against a cell wall and door. Continue>>>
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July 18, 2014 9:35 AM

Twenty. Years. Yesterday, July 16, 2014, the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its third report of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Lab misconduct first alleged twenty years ago – in 1994 – by Dr. Frederic Whitehurst.

Washington Post Investigative Reporter Spencer S. Hsu, in his coverage of this latest report, summed it up by saying, “Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.”

In 1994 Fred Whitehurst first made his whistleblower allegations of shoddy science and manipulated evidence during court proceedings in the first World Trade bombing case and later to the Justice Dept. Inspector General. Continue>>>
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