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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December 11, 2014 4:05 PM

The city of Boston lets citizens track its spending online. In Oakland, public records requests are posted on the city's website.

Government tools like these may be coming to San Diego. Local officials are pushing policy to open more of the city's information to the public.

Ben Katz of Open San Diego said identifying and releasing city records in a format San Diegans can use is crucial. Continue>>>
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December 11, 2014 3:49 PM

It's no secret that the US Trade Representative (USTR) has approached the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with a disappointing lack of transparency. For years now, leaks have been an inadequate substitute to reasonable public policy, and non-corporate groups have resorted to reading between the lines of press statements even as the stated timeline of the agreement has blown by.

There's another tool that members of the public can use to pry information out of agencies like the USTR: the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Through FOIA, groups like EFF can demand certain kinds of information, and the agency has a legal obligation to provide it. To that end, we've filed a FOIA request for correspondence records between USTR negotiators and corporate lobbyists about the TPP. When we receive responsive documents—likely some time in the new year—we'll go through them and release what we've found.

This isn't the first time a public interest group has used FOIA request to uncover this sort of information. In fact, our request builds specifically on earlier requests from IP-Watch and Knowledge Ecology International, which helped the public understand the cozy relationship between lobbyists and negotiators up to that point, in 2013. Our new request seeks to expand on the information discovered through that request and bring it up to date. Continue>>>
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December 11, 2014 3:18 PM

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., have called on the House to pass and send the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Improvement Act to the President for his signature following its unanimous passage in the Senate.

“The FOIA Improvement Act will strengthen FOIA, the cornerstone open government law,” Issa and Cummings said in a joint statement.

“The House unanimously passed companion legislation, H.R. 1211, earlier this year. The FOIA Improvement Act is a bipartisan bill that, after last night’s (Dec. 8) passage by the Senate, deserves to be taken up by the House and sent to the President.” Continue>>>
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December 11, 2014 3:13 PM

Should we cheer or boo when outspoken professors at state universities become the target of public records demands filed by antagonists seeking their emails and correspondence? As we had occasion to note during the Douglas Laycock controversy in May and June, there’s plenty of inconsistency on this question on both left and right. Some who cheer FOIA requests when aimed at scholars supportive of the environmental and labor movements, for example, later deplore them as harassment when the tables are turned, and vice versa.

If there’s any group you might expect to take a consistent position on these questions, it’s the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), its members being prospective targets of such requests and thus at the very center of the issue. So what’s their opinion?

In 2011, when politically liberal University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon was the target of a FOIA request by state Republicans, AAUP sent a strongly worded letter on its letterhead denouncing the move as a threat to academic freedom. The group likewise came to the defense of environmentalists targeted by conservatives. Continue>>>
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December 11, 2014 3:05 PM

For those of you who are new to the blog, or who have not been paying attention, Legal Insurrection filed a FOIA suit against the District of Columbia seeking records related to the non-prosecution of David Gregory and NBC News despite their clear violation of D.C.’s gun law by possessing a 30-round ammunition magazine.

We are represented by Judicial Watch, which has done a wonderful job. It’s a real credit to them that they work hard to dig out the truth not only on big issues like IRS targeting, but also smaller issues like how draconian D.C. gun laws are not enforced against the famous and connected D.C. elites.

In the Gregory case, NBC News was warned by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department that possession of the magazine was illegal, and that NBC News should use a photo not the real thing, but NBC News ignored the warning and used it on Meet the Press. Continue>>>
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December 11, 2014 3:00 PM

Amid big-time Washington news like the torture report, a nomination for attorney general and cameras for police officers, a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, or F.O.I.A., may seem pretty unsexy.

Apparently so, because it’s been mostly ignored by much of the mainstream media, including The Times, in recent days, as a retiring senator held up the legislation and it nearly went down the drain. That didn’t happen; the bill — a version of which received bipartisan support in the House — passed in the Senate on Monday with Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, releasing his hold.

The odd part about this is that journalists rely heavily on F.O.I.A. requests to get important information for their stories. Sometimes, they and their news organizations go to court to press those demands. And the information is used in major stories, including, for example, Eric Lipton’s recent investigation about state attorneys general and lobbyists’ efforts to influence them. Continue>>>
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December 10, 2014 12:00 PM

Legislation that press freedom groups say would provide important reforms to the federal government’s open records law passed the U.S. Senate Monday, after being briefly blocked by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

“Passage of the FOIA Improvement Act will help open the government to the more than 300 million Americans it serves,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont and a sponsor of the bill.

The measure was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate after Rockefeller withdrew his opposition, according to The Hill. Continue>>>
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December 10, 2014 11:16 AM

Lawmakers should end this legislative session by leaving Michiganians a legacy of transparency. Bills waiting for approval by the Senate would make it cheaper and easier to obtain documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and should be passed.

The measure passed the House last March by a 102-8 vote. Obviously, it has broad bipartisan support and meets the test of an issue worthy of lawmakers’ attention.

Before the lame-duck session ends next week, Majority Leader Randy Richardville should move it to the floor for a vote. Continue>>>
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December 10, 2014 11:08 AM

City officials released public records Monday that had been previously denied to the Tulsa World by Mayor Dewey Bartlett, citing unwritten city policy that officials say exempts them from the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

The records released Monday regarded ethics complaints against Bartlett involving his decision to throw out plans for a sidewalk near A Gathering Place for Tulsa.

In his denial, Bartlett said he would release the complaints made against him after the investigation had been completed. Continue>>>
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December 10, 2014 10:51 AM

More than 45 people gathered at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston last night for the first of four open-government workshops in North Idaho this week featuring Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. The free sessions, sponsored by Idahoans for Openness in Government, or IDOG (full disclosure – I’m IDOG’s president), cover how to comply with Idaho’s two key open government laws, the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Act, and are for local and state government officials and employees, reporters, editors and photographers from all media, and interested citizens.

Monday night’s session, co-sponsored by the Lewiston Tribune included interactive skits in which audience members took on roles, including the one pictured above, in which Doug Bauer of the Tribune portrayed a county prosecutor and Jaynie Bentz of the Port of Lewiston a county commissioner, helping illustrate the do’s and don’ts and generating laughs along the way. Lewiston Tribune Publisher Butch Alford, at left, guaranteed the session would be worth the price of admission, or he’d refund double the price.

Among the issues that came up during the session: Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane noted that members of public boards shouldn’t be texting one another during meetings. “We’ve actually had cases of folks texting during a meeting and not having the discussion,” he said. “If you’re texting during the meeting, you’re robbing the public of the purpose of the Open Meeting Law.” Plus, he noted, those texts become public records and the public’s entitled to see them. Continue>>>
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December 10, 2014 10:40 AM

The Port of Olympia commission voted Monday night to move forward with a final settlement agreement covering three lawsuits, two of which were filed against the port nearly eight years ago.

The lawsuits were filed by Arthur West of Olympia, an open government advocate who sued the port twice in 2007 and once in 2012, according to port data.

Commissioner Sue Gunn was absent Monday, so commissioners Bill McGregor and George Barner approved a plan to have executive director Ed Galligan “execute a final settlement agreement consistent with terms previously discussed in executive sessions.” Continue>>>

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December 10, 2014 10:23 AM

 The Senate has passed a bill to update the Freedom of Information Act.

By voice vote on Monday, lawmakers endorsed a bill by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas that the sponsors said would require federal agencies to have a presumption of openness.

Under the bill, exemptions to withhold information would be reduced and agencies operating under the act would have to make records available for public inspection in an electronic format. Continue>>>
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