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

April 28, 2015 12:24 PM

The secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted, a newly declassified document shows.

The document is a lengthy report on a once secret N.S.A. program code-named Stellarwind. The report was a joint project in 2009 by inspectors general for five intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and it was withheld from the public at the time, although a short, unclassified versionwas made public. The government released a redacted version of the full report to The New York Times on Friday evening in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush secretly told the N.S.A. that it could wiretap Americans’ international phone calls and collect bulk data about their phone calls and emails without obeying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over time, Stellarwind’s legal basis evolved, and pieces of it emerged into public view, starting with an article in The Times about warrantless wiretapping in 2005.The report amounts to a detailed history of the program. While significant parts remain classified, it includes some new information. For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002. Continue>>>

April 28, 2015 12:20 PM

This afternoon, Charity Murphy, the Executive Director of the Clark County Park District decided to use Facebook as a means to intimidate Freedom of Information Act requesters into submission through “peer pressure”.

This is a direct assault on citizens of this State with the full force and resources of a government body.

The Park District recently received FOIA requests for information related to seasonal and annual campground spots, and for the financial transaction report for those campsites among other things. She decided to take her frustrations out on Facebook, during normal operating hours of the Park, claiming that the park attorney told her to do so. Continue>>>

April 28, 2015 12:15 PM

That's easy for him to say — easy for House Republicans to hear — because they were in the room.

The other 19 million people of Florida were locked out. It's their money, their lives, their environment and their schools that are affected by what the Legislature does. It's just none of their business.

Trust is automatic in the lockstep ranks of Republican legislators, who hardly needed reassurance. But public trust is something you'd think politicians would want to cultivate. Public officials privately discussing public business at public expense in public buildings on public time is not a way to make the public trust them. Continue>>>

April 28, 2015 12:12 PM

The Illinois House on Friday passed HB 3932, legislation that would require private campus police to release the same information as municipal police.

The bill — introduced in February by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) and co-sponsored by state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) — passed unanimously.

The bill was inspired by community concerns about the University of Chicago Police Department’s (UCPD) practices, according to Currie, who told the Herald last month that the university State’s Attorney’s office were weighing in on the bill. Continue>>>

April 28, 2015 12:07 PM

When it comes to providing information to the public, 14 out of 21 U.S. government agencies receive poor marks for responding to records requests, according to a study published online Friday by researchers at Syracuse University.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at SU asked for copies of the electronic files the federal agencies use to keep track of requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

But after sending identical requests Jan. 22 and Jan. 23 to the 21 federal agencies, only seven have fully complied by making public usable data, the TRAC report said Friday. Continue>>>

April 28, 2015 12:06 PM

At a public meeting in Oakland, California, early in 2014, an analyst with the city's Public Ethics Commission proposed the idea of building an app that would help residents understand who actually puts money into campaigns at the local level.

Five months later, after hundreds of hours of research and development, the city's tech-savvy civic advocacy group, OpenOakland, launched an app called Open Disclosure, which makes obscure and complex campaign finance data intelligible to average citizens. Their process is described in greater depth in Government Technology's article, "Oakland App Sheds Light on Campaign Finance."

Oakland's Open Disclosure is one of many user-friendly applications being developed across the country that transform individuals' ability to meaningfully participate in government. Continue>>>

April 27, 2015 12:30 AM

In an era where the government collects more information than ever before, the importance of maintaining public access to that information becomes a bigger concern with each passing year.

That point isn’t lost on U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. Serving as a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee — in her freshman term, it should be noted — she has paid particular attention to the Freedom of Information Act, the venerable 50-year-old law that requires the public disclosure of records held by the federal government.

Hirono last year co-sponsored the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which would require federal agencies to make FOIA records available for inspection in an electronic format, limit agencies’ ability to charge fees if they foot drag on FOIA requests and establish a legal presumption in favor of disclosure, among other things. Continue>>>

April 27, 2015 12:26 AM

In another sign of the increased attention being paid to the Rialto Square Theatre, the organization’s Freedom of Information Act officer has resigned because she does not have time to keep up with the demand for documents.

We are getting hit with FOIAs almost every day,” Rialto board member Vicki Murphy said at a meeting Wednesday. “It’s to the point where it’s overwhelming for the entire staff.”

Murphy, who also served as the FOIA officer until Wednesday, said two Rialto staff members are working as many as 35 hours a week dealing with public requests for information. Continue>>>

April 27, 2015 12:20 AM

DeFuniak Springs City Councilman Kermit Wright really, really, really doesn’t like Florida’s open-government, or sunshine, laws. And he doesn’t mind saying so. “The sunshine law is a communist plot straight out of Stalin,” he told the Daily News’ Tom McLaughlin the other day. “I don’t like it or anything that restricts free speech. It’s against everything I stand for.”

Mr. Wright was commenting on a former police captain’s lawsuit alleging sunshine law violations in DeFuniak Springs. There’s no reason to believe that Wright, who was elected in 2011 and recently re-elected, has broken any laws. But his assertion that open-government requirements are a commie plot begs for a response.

We suspect the thugs who ran Josef Stalin’s Russia had no use for open meetings, open records and transparent decision-making. Soviet tyranny operated amid secrecy, not openness. It’s nonsense to think that Stalin — or Khrushchev or Brezhnev or any of Russia’s other hard-liners from the old days — begat today’s sunshine laws. Continue>>>

April 27, 2015 12:17 AM

Akron City Council often flouts rules designed to allow the public to follow city government and weigh in on proposals before they become law.

Akron's city charter requires legislation to be posted online by noon Friday, in advance of Monday City Council meetings, to give residents the weekend to review proposals. But council regularly blows by the deadline, and sometimes legislation is changed or rewritten hours before it's voted into law, without any opportunity for members of the public to respond.

The process is exacerbated by council's habit of suspending rules that require reading legislation three times before passage. More often than not, legislation is either passed after one reading or are bundled with other pieces in what is known as a consent agenda and approved without discussion by a single vote. Continue>>>

April 27, 2015 12:14 AM

A Freedom of Information Act request from the Sunlight Foundation has turned into federal policy on agency data holdings, the foundation reported.

Earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget posted updated guidance to the Project Open Data GitHub that instructs agencies to "include all 'non-public' data assets in their [Public Data Listing], in addition to the 'public' and 'restricted' data assets that have long been required," according to an announcement from the foundation. The update also requires agencies to explain their reasons for any non-public designations and redactions in the metadata.

"Essentially, this reframes the PDL to be a public version of the full [enterprise data inventory]," OMB senior analyst Jamie Berryhill wrote in the GitHub posting. "Because the only difference between an agency's full EDI and the agency's PDL will be the existence of any needed redactions, agencies no longer need to submit an EDI to OMB unless their PDL contains any redactions." Continue>>>

April 27, 2015 12:11 AM

The head of a local open government group called on Governor Markell to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for information about a "secret" state email account.

Delaware Coalition for Open Government president John Flaherty told WDEL News the Freedom of Information Act itself requires transparency on the part of elected officials conducting government business.

"It talks about that public business be performed in an open and public manner, and unless it's specifically excluded, public documents like emails are part of the public record, and they should be disclosed," said Flaherty. Continue>>>

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