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 7:01 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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July 16, 2014 1:39 AM

On July 20, 2013, agents of the U.K. government entered The Guardian newsroom in London and compelled them to physically destroy the computers they were using to report on the Edward Snowden archive. The Guardian reported this a month later after my partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow Airport for 11 hours under a British terrorism law and had all of his electronic equipment seized. At the time, the Obama administration -- while admitting that it was told in advance of the Heathrow detention -- pretended that it knew nothing about the forced laptop destruction and would never approve of such attacks on press freedom.

But emails just obtained by Associated Press pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) prove that senior Obama national security officials -- including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-NSA chief Keith Alexander -- not only knew in advance that U.K. officials intended to force The Guardian to destroy their computers, but overtly celebrated it.

One email, dated July 19 (the day prior to the destruction) bears the subject line "Guardian data being destroyed" and is from NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett to Alexander. He writes: "Good news, at least on this front." The next day, almost immediately after the computers were destroyed, Alexander emailed Ledgett: "Can you confirm this actually occurred?" Hours later, under the same subject line, Clapper emailed Alexander, saying: "Thanks Keith ... appreciate the conversation today." Continue>>>
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July 16, 2014 1:17 AM

It’s a big question really. Why would seven judges decide that the police can keep information about crime secret from the American public? That is essentially what the state Supreme Court did July 7.

Before becoming Supreme Court justices, four of the seven who decided the case were either prosecutors or city attorneys, one was an FBI agent — species not prone to informing the public. The justice who wrote the 27-page opinion, Richard Robinson, (there are no concurring or dissenting opinions) worked as a city lawyer for Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy.

On the 27th page of Commissioner of Public Safety vs. Freedom of Information Commission, Mr. Justice Robinson writes that the issue should be “squarely on the radar of the legislature” and he suggests that open government advocates should “pursue appropriate legislative remedies.” Continue>>>
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July 16, 2014 1:10 AM

Judicial Watch, a public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, says federal Judge Emmitt Sullivan has ordered the Internal Revenue Service to produce documents of sworn testimonies describing what happened to emails of former IRS official Lois Lerner and others – and what steps have been taken to try to recover those records.

Fitton, Tom (Judicial Watch)"We're suspicious the IRS is not telling the truth when they say the emails have been lost and can't be recovered," says Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. "We think they're there somewhere."

The records Judicial Watch has already obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have been very revealing, Fitton adds. "What we know to date [is] you've got IRS suppression; we've proved President Obama is lying about the IRS; and now we know that there's been a cover up of the destruction of records and there's been obstruction of investigations, that's for sure," he shares. Continue>>>
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July 16, 2014 1:08 AM

The United States' Department of State Freedom of Information Act has said that the public disclosure of emails by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, during his time with the agency, "could cause an unwarranted invasion of persdonal private", according to a report on The Desk website.

A letter dated 1 July by chief FOIA officer, Pamela Phillips, responding to a FOIA request by Matthew Keys of The Desk, said that: "Records pertaining to Mr. Snowden are withheld pursuant to the seventh exemption of the FOIA ... which protects from disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes.

"This includes information that, if released, could interfere with enforcement proceedings, could cause an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, could reveal the identities of confidential sources, or would reveal law enforcement techniques and procedures," said Phillips in the letter. Continue>>>
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DOS, Edward Snowden, NSA, privacy
July 16, 2014 1:07 AM

On July 20, 2013, agents of the U.K. government entered The Guardian newsroom in London and compelled them to physically destroy the computers they were using to report on the Edward Snowden archive. The Guardian reported this a month later after my partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow Airport for 11 hours under a British terrorism law and had all of his electronic equipment seized. At the time, the Obama administration -- while admitting that it was told in advance of the Heathrow detention -- pretended that it knew nothing about the forced laptop destruction and would never approve of such attacks on press freedom.

But emails just obtained by Associated Press pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) prove that senior Obama national security officials -- including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-NSA chief Keith Alexander -- not only knew in advance that U.K. officials intended to force The Guardian to destroy their computers, but overtly celebrated it.

One email, dated July 19 (the day prior to the destruction) bears the subject line "Guardian data being destroyed" and is from NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett to Alexander. He writes: "Good news, at least on this front." The next day, almost immediately after the computers were destroyed, Alexander emailed Ledgett: "Can you confirm this actually occurred?" Hours later, under the same subject line, Clapper emailed Alexander, saying: "Thanks Keith ... appreciate the conversation today." Continue>>>
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