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

November 23, 2015 1:32 PM

Have you heard of Kevin Folta? He’s a professor at the University of Florida and the lead actor in an ongoing set piece pitching (some) journalists against (some) scientists. They’re arguing over four letters that form the core of transparency about what our government is up to: FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, the federal version of which turns 50 next year.

Folta ultimately cast himself in this drama as the beleaguered scientist who just says what the GMO data tell him, independent of industry influence. His purported story arc is that politicized, biased journalists unfairly attacked his character after a politically motivated FOIA request revealed a previously undisclosed relationship with Monsanto.  Continue...


November 20, 2015 6:59 PM

Lawmakers say they want voters to decide if privacy and open-government protections should be added to Wyoming's Constitution.

The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to support a bill that would put the proposed constitutional changes on the 2016 general election ballot.

The proposal states that individual privacy is "essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest." Continue...

opengov, privacy, Wyoming
November 20, 2015 6:52 PM

California has launched a new open data portal that details the state’s outstanding $1.5 trillion in debt. The site will allow residents to track proposed and issued debt, cost of issuance, and bond and tax election results. The portal is the latest entrant in a plethora of fragmented open data portals launched across the various arms of California government.

The site’s debt-related information covers more than 30 years, from 1984 to the present. Included are more than 2.8 million fields of data, which will be updated monthly. The data will go to the Treasurer’s California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission (CDIAC).

CDIAC has offered some of this debt data for years, but the new portal goes a step further offering a broader range of data sets and the ability to visualize trends. The portal is an expansion of California’s existing relationship with Socrata, which provides software to power open data portals. Continue...


November 20, 2015 6:07 PM

Virginia teachers will seek new assurances in the coming legislative session that the class-by-class student test scores used in teacher evaluations aren't released to the public.

The Virginia Education Association also will push for a change in state law to ensure teachers are given notice when anyone requests information from their personnel files, the group's attorney told the state's Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council Wednesday.

School systems don't have to release this data under Virginia law, but teachers want a chance to weigh in before that decision's made, VEA attorney Dena Rosenkrantz said. Continue....


November 20, 2015 6:03 PM

Last month, Evans police Chief Rick Brandt participated in a panel discussion about body-worn cameras and publicly revealed an incident some chiefs might prefer to sweep under the rug.

In July, following the arrest of a man suspected of being involved in a fight at a house party, Brandt fired one of his officers after camera footage confirmed he had used excessive force while placing the man into custody.

“The vast majority of the time — something like 90 percent, according to studies I’ve seen recently — officers are being exonerated of wrongdoing by body camera footage,” Brandt said. “Sometimes officers make a bad decision or let their emotions dictate their behavior. In this case we had some evidence that allowed us to make the difficult decision to let that officer go.” Continue...

November 20, 2015 6:00 PM

Oregon government agencies may be jeopardizing public trust with slow responses to more complex public records requests and inconsistent use of exemptions, according to a state audit report released Tuesday.

The audit is part of the fallout from an influence peddling scandal involving Gov. John Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes. Auditors recommended that the state create an ombudsman position to “serve as an intermediary between the public and state agencies on complex records requests.”

“The public and the press have a right to see how their government operates to serve Oregonians,” Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said in a statement. “This audit demonstrates that state agencies need to improve consistency and develop strategies to better respond to public records requests of all sizes. We must improve the public’s trust in Oregon government.” Continue...


November 18, 2015 11:43 PM

Tuesday, Nov. 24 marks the first anniversary of a grand jury's failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August 2014 shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

When Wilson was cleared by the grand jury, riots broke out in Ferguson and elsewhere, and the Black Lives Matter movement was born, challenging cities across the country to examine policies pertaining to the use of excessive force by their police departments.

Closer to home, the streets of Colorado Springs weren't marked by protests, but months later the Ferguson episode simmered in the minds of Springs Police Officer David Nelson, and brothers Benjamin and Ryan Brown. Continue...

November 18, 2015 11:36 PM

From Social Security numbers to financial information and health records, some of the most sensitive parts of our personal lives are stored on state web servers.

A security breach that exposes this information can leave us vulnerable to identity theft. It also could lead to the modification or destruction of personal data that lets us get a driver's license or business permit, for example.

Florida officials have a responsibility to secure our personal information. But open government advocates are questioning whether state officials may be going too far under a bill filed by Florida Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla. Continue...


November 18, 2015 11:32 PM

The Chicago Police Department violated the state's Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release a video of a white police officer fatally shooting an African-American teen to a newspaper, according to a recent opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

The five-page ruling on Nov. 6 was made public one day before a Cook County judge is scheduled to decide whether to make public the police car dashboard video of Laquan McDonald's shooting.

City officials so far have declined to release the potentially inflammatory video, citing an ongoing federal grand jury probe into the shooting. No charges have been filed against the officer, identified by the Tribune as Jason Van Dyke. Continue...


November 18, 2015 11:27 PM

New Jersey's largest newspapers and some of the biggest U.S. media companies are challenging a 2013 ruling by a Bergen County judge that they say gives government agencies in New Jersey unprecedented power to deny requests for public records.

Experts call it one of the most consequential legal battles involving privacy rights and government transparency New Jersey has seen in years. A state appeals court heard oral arguments for nearly two hours Tuesday.

The case began when a reporter for North Jersey Media Group, which owns The Record and 49 community newspapers, requested a range of documents and recordings in 2013 that would be kept on file at the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. Continue...

November 18, 2015 11:16 PM

Virginia’s public-records panel will explore changes to state law to address the ramifications from a recent state Supreme Court ruling that advocates have warned could have sweeping effects on government transparency.

At a meeting Wednesday, the co-chairman of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council said the body will look into concerns raised by Sen.-elect Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax, who took the Department of Corrections to court last year after being denied information about the state’s procedures for carrying out the death penalty.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled that the prisons agency could keep its execution manual secret. The court ruled that the department could withhold the entire document rather than redacting sensitive portions that officials argued could jeopardize security. Continue...


November 17, 2015 11:06 PM

A Massachusetts House committee is set to unveil a bill that would allow those who are thwarted in seeking public records to collect attorney fees, but the measure does nothing to strengthen what is largely viewed as one of the nation’s weakest public records laws and, in fact, could make it harder to get records in some cases.

The bill being circulated to committee members for approval, which is slated to go for debate before the full House Wednesday, also drops fines from the original sponsors’ bills against individuals who do not comply with the law and, instead, leaves it to a judge to levy a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000 against the agency or municipality.

The measure would also allow agencies and communities to request time extensions if they deem the request to be heavily involved, delays that could go up to 75 days after an initial request. Continue... 


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