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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November 19, 2014 1:40 PM

From President Obama’s first day in office, he has established himself as the first open data president. On day one, he issued a memorandum to create an “unprecedented level of openness in government” and affirmed that information collected and used by the federal government is a national asset. In the nearly six years Obama has been in office, he has taken a series of executive actions to further the ideal of open government through data, and there is still much to be done. With the presidential election season just around the corner, it remains to be seen if the progress made over the past few years will continue in future administrations, or if President Obama will be the last open data president.

President Obama’s initial memorandum served as the framework for the Administration’s Open Government Directive launched in December 2009, which requires federal agencies to adhere to three main tenets: publish government information online, improve the quality of government information, and create and institutionalize a culture of open government. The directive established specific goals and milestones for making high-quality government data accessible to the public. For example, in the first 45 days after the directive was created, agencies were required to identify and publish three previously unavailable, high-value data sets via Data.gov, which was launched in May 2009 by the Federal Chief Information Officer. Importantly, many of the requirements of the directive are ongoing processes, such as a requirement for agencies to update and publish an Open Government Plan every two years, ensuring that the commitment to open data becomes ingrained in government agency culture.

Recognizing that simply publishing government data online was not sufficient for making the data valuable, President Obama issued an executive order in May 2013 which required government data to be published in an open and machine readable format by default. Publishing machine readable data not only helps government agencies fulfill their Open Government Directive requirements more completely, but it also allows the data to be more easily searched and analyzed by the public. With open license to use and reuse this data, the range of organizations that can access, analyze, share, and derive value from this data broadens dramatically. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released its Open Data Policy in conjunction with this executive order to establish good data management practices throughout the data lifecycle, such as enhancing information safeguards and clarifying information management responsibilities. Continue>>>
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November 19, 2014 1:36 PM

Controversial professor Steven Salaita, whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded after he made anti-Israel comments on social media, filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that the university has violated the state's open records law.

The lawsuit, filed in Champaign County court, contends the university failed to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act by refusing to produce documents that Salaita's attorneys requested. State law requires government bodies, including public universities, to disclose records related to decisions, policies and other government activity upon request.

Salaita had been offered a tenured position at U. of I., but it was rescinded in August, weeks before he was to start, after he wrote hundreds of anti-Israel tweets during the summer, some of which included profane and inflammatory language. The decision not to hire Salaita was met with backlash from faculty across the country who argued that Salaita was punished for his controversial views. Continue>>>

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November 19, 2014 1:33 PM

Bad ideas, unlike fine wine, don’t get better with age.

And that’s especially true of HB 3796, a bill that would weaken FOIA, the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

It was a bad idea when it breezed through the Illinois House and Senate in May with little explanation or debate. Continue>>>
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November 19, 2014 1:29 PM

Floridians are blessed with the most expansive open government laws in the nation. While the state's Sunshine Law ensures the public's right of access to most governmental meetings and records, those official entities can encounter difficulties on several fronts.

Slow responses to public records requests elicit sharp criticism for stonewalling. No response to those entreaties can spark lawsuits that can prove costly to government programs and taxpayers.

On another Sunshine issue, meetings deemed to be public must be noticed and open. Official entities cannot misunderstand the rules on open governance, another pitfall that can void proceedings and decisions. Continue>>>

November 19, 2014 1:26 PM

An Open Government Symposium this Friday in Valdosta will be hosted by the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners.
Valdosta Daily Times Editor Jim Zachary, director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, will be joined by Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, for the open government training event.
Lowndes County leaders approached Zachary and Manheimer about bringing the symposium to Valdosta after they attended the first in a statewide series of open government training sessions held in Macon at the Center for Collaborative Journalism Oct. 17. Continue>>>
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November 19, 2014 1:22 PM

The other day, a local woman approached a Gazette editor and regaled him with tales of her experience trying to get information from a local government.

She complained that her request for information wasn't honored in a timely manner, that government officials kept pushing back the date of when they said the information would be available, and then threatened her if she continued to badger them.

The state's Freedom of Information Law, commonly known as FOIL, turned 40 years old this year. Continue>>>

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November 18, 2014 2:51 PM

Our recent election was exciting on both the local and national levels. I was honored to be re-elected to serve District 120. Running unopposed does take some of the anxiety out of the electoral process, but it doesn’t diminish my appreciation for all the congratulatory notes and calls from friends and supporters.

The closer we get to heading back to the Statehouse for session, the more our daunting challenges are beginning to look like good opportunities for real, substantive reforms, especially regarding those two priority matters, ethics and transportation infrastructure.

Much of my summer has been taken up serving on the two study committees preparing recommendations on these priorities, to be presented to the full House shortly after we reconvene. Continue>>>

November 18, 2014 2:43 PM

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is looking to industry to fund its open data initiatives in partnerships intended to meet its unfunded mandates while also spurring innovation in the private sector.

NOAA creates and gathers terabytes of information each day, much of which could be highly valuable if utilized within its window of usefulness. The agency wants to get the data to the people but doesn’t have the resources to make that happen, according to David McClure, lead analyst for NOAA’s Open Government Data Services.

With budgets flat, McClure’s team is looking to private industry to support this effort by providing public clouds to maintain copies of NOAA’s raw data. In turn, the companies leading the effort would charge at the point of access as a means of recouping their costs and reap the economic benefits of having the data available, along with everyone else. Continue>>>

November 18, 2014 11:24 AM

A group that claims to be a champion of transparency has been filing a slew of lawsuits against Florida's government agencies, ostensibly to force the agencies to comply with public records laws. But just how much money has the group won? They're not willing to say.

Over the past few weeks, the Citizens Awareness Foundation, Inc. has faced accusations that the real reason it's filing so many lawsuits is to win cash settlements, not to serve the public interest. When New Times asked CAFI to show us some of the records they sought and how much they settled for, the open records group denied our repeated requests.

CAFI's former president Joel Chandler says he quit the six-figure gig after figuring out that is was a racket. (CAFI says he was fired for misusing funds.) He says the way it works is this: A public records request is sent to a government agency. If that group doesn't respond in a timely manner, ignores it, or illegally denies it, CAFI files a lawsuit. And quite often, it's cheaper for a government agency to settle than to fight it out in court, so CAFI gets paid. Continue>>>
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November 18, 2014 11:23 AM

The importance of the Freedom of Information Act is clearly written in West Virginia Code.

The “declaration of policy” is as follows:

“Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government which holds to the principle that government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state of West Virginia that all persons are, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government they have created. To that end, the provisions of this article shall be liberally construed with the view of carrying out the above declaration of public policy.”Continue>>>
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November 18, 2014 11:17 AM

Watchdog group Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Obama Administration in October, in order to obtain records relating to media monitoring plan records.

More specifically, the FOIA is against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and relates to a “Critical Information Needs” (CIN) pilot study conducted by the government agency. The study revolved around how media outlets make editorial decisions when covering stories.

The FCC's Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs study, announced in May 2013, had a stated purpose to analyse the "access/barriers to CINs in diverse American communities … with special emphasis on vulnerable/disadvantaged populations." Continue>>>
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November 18, 2014 11:14 AM

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission does not have to release records about its supervision of Wall Street's arbitration process to a group of investors' lawyers, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ends, at least for now, a long-running battle about the public's right of access to documents about the SEC's oversight over the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's arbitration system.

FINRA, the Wall Street industry-funded watchdog, runs the arbitration forum where investors and brokerages must resolve their legal disputes. The SEC oversees and examines FINRA, which is a private organization. Continue>>>

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