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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October 13, 2014 1:44 PM

The Pennsylvania Senateís passage last month of SB 444, amending the stateís Right to Know law, was far from a shining example of representative government working in the peopleís best interest.

The vote ó 50-0 ó was instead an inexcusable exercise favoring the government's interest over that of citizens' right to know, proving again that public transparency is the last thing on lawmakers'minds.

There are a few streamlining sops in the legislation ó which now goes to a House committee ó but they fail to ameliorate the bill's appalling downsides, among them eliminating the public's ability to hold government accountable when functions are outsourced ó in essence letting official agencies contract away your right to know. Continue>>>
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October 13, 2014 1:43 PM

Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday proposed creating a Government Accountability Portal to make state government more open, transparent and accountable to Iowa citizens. Branstad said the new entity would be a 'one-stop shop' housed within the Iowa Public Information Board for Iowans to register comments, concerns, questions or suggestions regarding state government and its operations.

The new approach would require a response to an 'input' from Iowa citizens within 24 hours and would require acknowledgment from the appropriate state agency within 48 hours, so that the citizen knows with whom the discussion will continue, according to a news release from the Branstad-Reynolds campaign.

Branstad said he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have made transparency a hallmark of their administration, beginning with the resumption of weekly news conference to directly respond to questions from the media and naming former Iowa Newspaper Association executive Bill Monroe as the state's first transparency adviser to the governor. Continue>>>
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October 13, 2014 1:41 PM

The NSA doesn't like leaks that much. But it does like leaks when it chooses to leak, as then it gets to exert influence over the media, and thus potentially shape the public narrative. And as we have variously learned, not everything initially marked TOP SECRET//COMINT//NO FORN needs to stay that way.

But that doesn't mean to say that the NSA, which has a requirement to inform Congress when it leaks certain information, wants you to know what it has leaked, and what has otherwise managed to find its way out on its own.

A request for the government to disclose precisely what it had leaked was rebuffed through what might be my new favorite use of the English language yet: Continue>>>
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Congress, leaks, NSA
October 9, 2014 1:49 AM

Too many public entities are violating Missouriís open-government laws by meeting in closed sessions without giving a good reason or by discussing things behind closed doors that they shouldnít be, the state auditor said Tuesday.

Auditor Tom Schweich said about 15 percent of the nearly 300 audits he conducted over the previous two years found some sort of violation of Missouri's open-meetings-and-records laws. Thatís an improvement from the 19 percent problem rate for Sunshine law compliance during audits conducted in 2010 and 2011, he said.

'Maybe things are getting a little better,' Schweich said. But he added: 'Thatís not to say I'm happy with the fact that so many entities are still not complying.' Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:47 AM

Well before Edward Snowden leaked documents about the National Security Administration's massive domestic-surveillance program, the American Civil Liberties Union sought clues through the Freedom of Information Act about how government interpreted its spying powers.

The ACLU's lawsuit, filed three years ago, demanded that the government produce documents describing its interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act. The statute empowers the government to cull "any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

Snowden eliminated much of the mystery surrounding what this meant last year with unprecedented leaks of top-secret documents, starting with an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that forced Verizon to give the government its customers' telephone metadata. Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:46 AM

he Knight Foundation Tuesday announced a $1.8 million investment in the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships Program at Stanford University for a series of new initiatives, including the establishment of a workshop on transformative news leadership.

The Knight Fellowships each year brings 20 journalists and journalism entrepreneurs to Stanford for 10 months. During that time they focus on journalism innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership as they work to meet a specific journalism challenge that each has identified. The program's goal is to develop leaders with transformative ideas and innovative approaches they can use as they move forward in their journalism careers.

The program will use the money to 'strengthen the fellowship curriculum and help spread the programí' impact into newsrooms and beyond,î according to a release from the Knight Foundation (full release below). Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:45 AM

An important survey from the Associated Press lays out in detail just how the Obama administration limits access to public information. As we face a new war in the Middle East, a dangerous outbreak of a virulent disease and a number of political scandals, itís more important than ever that American citizens ó and American voters ó to have access to information.

Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee, speaking to the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers, pointed to specific ways the administration blocks information.

First is the war in the Middle East (though the administration seems unwilling to call it a war). ìAs the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can't see any of it,î the Associated Press reported. ìNews organizations can't shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off ó there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won't even say what country the bombers fly from.î Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:44 AM

The Internal Revenue Service failed to comply with Freedom of Information Act requirements for about 11 percent of the requests it received for information, according to a new report.

The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, comes at a sensitive time for both the IRS and the Inspector General's office, when both face lawsuits from conservative watchdog groups over their failure to turn over emails and other information related to the scandal involving applications for tax-exempt status.

The report was released because TIGTA is required to conduct periodic audits to determine if the IRS properly denied written requests for taxpayer information. TIGTA is also required to include the results in one of its Semiannual Reports to Congress. The report, which was released last week, is TIGTA's fifteenth review of denials of the FOIA, Privacy Act and Section 6103 information requests. Section 6103 of the Tax Code pertains to confidentiality and disclosure of returns and return information. Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:43 AM

York County's Board of Supervisors is considering changing how it applies the state's Freedom of Information Act, including increasing fees for copies of the county's zoning ordinance and Yorktown design guidelines.

FOIA gives residents access to public records and will be discussed during the board's work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday at York Hall, according to board's agenda.

County Administrator James O. McReynolds and staff have recommended making permanent the county's current practice of not charging members of the public for the first 15 minutes of staff time to retrieve and copy materials or for copying the first five pages of public information. After that, under the changes being considered, copies will be 2 cents a page and staff members' time will be accounted for and charged separately. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:05 PM

The Udall Foundation was established by the U.S. Congress in 1992 as an independent executive branch agency to honor Morris K. Udall's lasting impact on this nation's environment, public lands, and natural resources, and his support of the rights and self-governance of American Indians and Alaska Natives (P.L. 102-259).

The Open Government Directive, issued by the Office of Management and Budget in 2009, directed all executive branch departments and agencies to take specific actions to achieve transparency, including the publication of information online.

The Udall Foundation embraces the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration as it works to implement its mission. In addition to the data on this page, information about the Udall Foundation's work is available throughout the website. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:03 PM

Jason Grumet argued in ìGovernment wilting from the sunshineî [Washington Forum, Oct. 2] that transparency measures such as open meetings and records laws have a 'dark side,' one that is presumably responsible for the 77 percent of Americans who do not trust their government most of the time. Perhaps the fact that Congress has exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act and has no requirements to hold all meetings in public might contribute to the mistrust that troubles Mr. Grumet.

A cop on the beat has little expectation of privacy when doing his job. A senator or a subcommittee cutting a deal with a special interest shouldn't either. Sadly, we hold Congress to a much lower standard of openness while executive-branch agencies stonewall requests for information. Blame for suspicion of and dissatisfaction with Congress and the executive branch rests entirely at the feet of our elected officials, who, by restricting access to information, do much to prove themselves unworthy of trust. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:01 PM

Recently the Sentinel reported that prosecutors were looking at possible violations of Florida's "Government in the Sunshine" laws by public officials in Maitland. Its City Council is the latest among several Central Florida public agencies in recent years whose members have been investigated for violating open meetings or open records requirements. We conducted an email interview with one of Florida's leading open government advocates, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, to get some perspective. Excerpts of that interview follow. A longer version is online at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.

Q: How common are Sunshine law investigations around the state?

A: I think investigations are fairly common, although such investigations rarely lead to charges being filed. Textgate is, I believe, a good example. The [Orange-Osceola] state attorney had found that the text messages, which were clearly public records, had been deleted and/or destroyed [by Orange County commissioners in 2012], which is a violation of law. But criminal charges weren't filed against the offending public officials.

Q: Have there been well-known prosecutions in the past for Sunshine law violations? Continue>>>
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