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 1, 2016 12:57 PM

Although the government still hides too much information about a secret telephone records surveillance program known as Hemisphere, we have learned through EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits that police tout the massive database of private calls as “Google on Steroids."

Hemisphere, which AT&T operates on behalf of federal, state, and local law enforcement, contains trillions of domestic and international phone call records dating back to 1987. AT&T adds roughly four billion phone records to Hemisphere each day, including calls from non-AT&T customers that pass through the company’s switches.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other federal, state and local police use Hemisphere to not only track when and who someone is calling, but to perform complicated traffic analysis that can dynamically map people’s social networks and physical locations. This even includes knowing when someone changes their phone number.

And federal officials often do it without first getting permission from a judge.

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December 1, 2016 12:51 PM

Update, Nov. 29, 2016:  Provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act dealing with disclosure of physician payments were removed from the bill Tuesday, following criticism from some lawmakers and transparency advocates, a GOP aide said.

Original lede:
This week, Congress is expected to consider a bill promoting biomedical research and innovation that would also weaken requirements on pharmaceutical and medical device companies to disclose certain payments to doctors.

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December 1, 2016 12:45 PM

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is pleased to announce the winners of its 2016 open government awards. The awards are given to individuals or organizations who have made use of public information laws to keep government accountable and to inform their fellow citizens.

Professor Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech is this year’s Laurence E. Richardson citizen award winner; Sarah Kleiner and Katy Evans of the Richmond Times-Dispatch will receive the media award; and Arlington County will receive the award for government.

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November 30, 2016 12:25 PM

Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that a review of the state's open records laws is "appropriate" following disagreements about whether video of a Cedar Rapids officer-involved shooting should be made public.

"This is kind of a recent development of these police cameras," he said. "I think it would be appropriate for us to carefully review our laws."

The Linn County Attorney has called for a grand jury investigation into whether criminal charges should be filed against a Cedar Rapids police officer who shot a man during a traffic stop earlier this month. The officer was not seriously injured, but the man was taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics with critical injuries.

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November 30, 2016 12:23 PM

Members of the House of Representatives get an annual budget for their Washington and district offices, but how they spend it is up to them. There are some rules: It can’t be used for personal or campaign expenses, and there is no reserve source of money if lawmakers spend all of their allowances.

Lawmakers also are required to report the recipients of their office spending, and since 2009 the Sunlight Foundation has been taking the PDF files published by the House and converting them into text files useful for analysis and research. ProPublica has taken over both the collection and hosting of these files. They can be examined using spreadsheet or database software. You can download the files from this page.

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November 30, 2016 12:20 PM

With state and local government secrecy on the rise in many U.S. jurisdictions, this database offers a view of state open records and open meetings laws, and provides information about how to get what you are looking for, as well as ensure that government is operating in the sunlight.

Find the database here.  

November 29, 2016 11:41 AM

The NYPD does not keep detailed data explaining how or where property is seized during arrests, city lawyers say in court documents obtained by the Daily News.

The department’s Property and Evidence Tracking System, or PETS, can’t provide a breakdown of how much money or property — including vehicles — is seized on a precinct-by-precinct basis, city lawyers recently claimed in Manhattan Supreme Court filings.

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November 29, 2016 11:36 AM

The office within the National Archives and Records Administration tasked with overseeing Freedom of Information Act activities across government has tapped Alina Semo as its new director.

Semo, who has served as NARA's director of litigation in the Office of General Counsel since March 2014, will take over as director of the Office of Government Information Services. OGIS was established under the OPEN Government Act of 2007 as the ombudsman between FOIA requesters and federal agencies.

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November 29, 2016 11:32 AM

The Boston Police Department is on the verge of buying new software that will scan social media and the Internet for criminal activity and threats to public safety — a step that civil liberties groups say is a worrisome risk to free speech and privacy.

The software would be able to search blogs, websites, chat rooms, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. It would provide law enforcement officials with an address of where the content was posted and allow police to create a “geo-fence” that would send alerts when new posts are made within an area that meets specified search criteria.

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November 28, 2016 2:36 PM

An attorney for the Freedom of Information Commission has tentatively ruled that state police violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act when the agency required written permission from a prosecutor for the release of documents while a case was pending prosecution.

Hearing Officer Lisa Fein Siegel found in her Nov. 9 report, stemming from a complaint from the Record-Journal, that the law enforcement agency’s policy violated state law regarding the release of arrest records during pending prosecution.

State police turned over the requested documents ahead of a September hearing before the commission, but Siegel said the agency’s policy also resulted in an unwarranted delay. The FOI Commission will vote Dec. 7 on whether it accepts Siegel’s findings and decision.

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November 28, 2016 2:31 PM

If you've ever wondered what all of those firetrucks or police cars were doing the other day on the Naperville street where you live, you need wonder no longer starting Monday.

As part of an "open data" initiative enacted earlier this month by the Naperville City Council, residents will be able to learn when, where and why police officers or firefighters were sent out on emergency calls, courtesy of a daily "public safety incident map" making its formal debut Monday on the city's website.

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November 28, 2016 2:30 PM

As challenging as public records can be, it’s an incredibly important part of the democratic process that often provides a unique opportunity for oversight and engagement. That opportunity wouldn’t be possible without government officials doing their job, and often going above and beyond in the name of transparency.

This holiday, MuckRock once again wants to ask you to take a moment and say thanks to a public records officer who has gone above and beyond in helping process a request. Maybe it was for waiving a fee, or helping you better phrase your request to get what you wanted.

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FOIA officer, MuckRock
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