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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March 31, 2014 9:50 AM

When someone goes to the doctor, they expect their medical information will be kept confidential. In the same way, when producers work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they also want confidentiality.

Livestock and crop producers, for the most part, do not want the EPA sharing their names and other personal information with various organizations.

Currently, the EPA can release producers’ names, addresses, GPS location, and sometimes email addresses and phone numbers. Through the Freedom of Information Act, they released information for over 80,000 producers to environmental groups in February and April 2013.

A law prohibiting the EPA from sharing producer information needs to be passed. A significant step occurred when three U.S. Congressmen recently introduced legislation titled the Farmer Identity Protection Act. Continue>>>
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epa, privacy
March 31, 2014 9:48 AM

Black columns run vertically down 700 pages, devoid of any information about the federal workers who spent thousands of hours doing union work while on the government payroll.

This is what the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the name of protecting employees’ privacy, USDA withheld their names, duty stations, job titles, pay grades and salaries. It even deleted names of the unions benefiting from the hours spent by these USDA workers who continued to draw full pay and benefits, courtesy of the taxpayers. Continue>>>
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epa, FOIA
March 28, 2014 9:44 AM

Two weeks ago, the city of Ann Arbor took a deliberate step to remove a document that had been publicly available on its website for nearly half a decade. Why?

Allegedly, that document contains information that – if it were disclosed – would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy. Never mind the fact that the context of the document itself makes clear that the information in question is clearly and deliberately intended to be publicly available.

To erase any possible doubt about that, I resorted to an advanced investigative technique: I asked the guy. And it turns out that current Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member John Splitt had been content to have jsplitt@comcast.net publicly disclosed as his email contact information in the document – the same as elsewhere on the Internet. Continue>>>
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Attorneys, FOIA, Michigan
March 28, 2014 9:43 AM

To return to a point I’ve been hammering lately: this bloated government is stupid drunk on the trillions of dollars it has imbibed. There are far too many departments and agencies where outrageous abuse goes on for years before inspectors catch up with it. The results of these inspections are kept secret from taxpayers until someone – usually Fox News, or some other conservative media organization – drags it out into the open with a Freedom of Information Act request.

Not coincidentally, the Obama Administration rewrote the Freedom of Information Act on the down-low in 2009, to make it easier to thwart potentially embarrassing document requests.

Today’s buried nugget of outrage comes courtesy of the Washington Examiner, which used a FOIA request to learn that “Postal employees have spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on gambling, bills, and other personal expenses, according to a series of reports by the U.S. Postal Service inspector general.” Continue>>>
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March 28, 2014 9:41 AM

At the 16th Annual National Freedom of Information Day at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center, former White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein accepted the prestigious James Madison Award on behalf of the five-member President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies which recommended the end of bulk telephone metadata collection.

Then, Sunstein used his acceptance speech for the James Madison Award –which recognized those who “championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know”– to invoke the memories of Madison and Thomas Jefferson to argue to a roomful of openness activists that they should support continued government secrecy.

Citing the debate during closed sessions of the Constitutional Convention more than 225 years ago,1 Sunstein appealed for the continued need to protect the “deliberative process.” Government agencies are increasingly citing this same ”deliberative process” to trigger a Freedom of Information Act exemption –b(5)– that allows them to withhold any “interagency or intra-agency communication,” as well as any agency-claimed “draft,” from the public. This incredibly large cutout is often called the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. Continue>>>
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March 28, 2014 9:40 AM

The Illinois Policy Institute has released the latest round of Local Transparency Project audit results, this time measuring the transparency levels of some of Illinois’ largest municipalities.

IPI just completed an audit of the websites of the 26th through 50th largest municipalities in the state. Online transparency levels varied wildly from community to community. Scores ranged from Lombard’s perfect 100 percent to Romeoville’s dismal 29.7 percent.

Quincy also received an "F" with a score of only 51.1 percent. Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore says as he approaches a year in office, his administration is working to improve in this area. Continue>>>

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March 28, 2014 9:38 AM

Daily life has become inseparable from new technologies. Our phones and tablets let us shop from the couch, track how many miles we run, and keep in touch with friends across town and around the world - benefits barely possible a decade ago.

With respect to our communities, Uber and Lyft now shuttle us around town, reducing street traffic and parking problems. Adopt-a-Hydrant apps coordinate efforts to dig out hydrants after snowstorms, saving firefighters time when battling blazes. Change.org, helps millions petition for and effect social and political change.

Yet as a sector, government typically embraces technology well-behind the consumer curve. This leads to disheartening stories, like veterans waiting months or years for disability claims due to outdated technology or the troubled rollout of the Healthcare.gov website. This is changing. Continue>>>
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March 28, 2014 9:37 AM

For 48 hours, more than 900 Canadian entrepreneurs, innovators and amateur developers from across the country combed though raw federal data.

Their goal: Translating that information into an app, with a chance to win $25,000. The government’s goal: Engage with the data community and get an app that helps Canadians in their everyday lives.

“If we just left it to ‘Bureaucrat X14’ on the 10th floor of some office building in Ottawa to come up with all of the open data applications, I don’t think that would be very successful,” Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the minister spearheading Canada’s open government initiative, said in an interview this week. Continue>>>
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Canada, Hackathon, oped data
March 28, 2014 9:36 AM

NFOIC member the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is asking Gov. Susana Martinez about the administration’s policy for handling information requests from the Legislature’s watchdog committees.

The questions were raised in response to a story by The Associated Press that Martinez agencies have told the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee to send their information requests to the governor’s chief of staff for approval before an agency will respond.

Foundation Executive Director Susan Boe sent a letter Wednesday to the governor asking if her chief of staff now serves as the “chief records custodian” for agency requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 9:50 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the Delaware Court of Chancery's appeal of a federal appellate court ruling declaring its confidential arbitration program unconstitutional. The Supreme Court's refusal to grant certiorari ends the Chancery Court's arbitration program after three years of litigation and two federal court decisions.

In an order issued Monday, the high court said it would not grant certiorari in Delaware Coalition for Open Government v. Strine, but did not provide more information.

The Supreme Court's decision means that an October 2013 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit declaring that the arbitration program violated the public's right to access civil trials under the First Amendment will stand. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:30 AM

When President Barack Obama signed the Open Data Executive Order last May, many IT leaders applauded the White House's decision to release treasure troves of public data as part of an important government initiative for greater transparency.

However, what many didn't bargain for was the state in which they'd find these once-buried data sets. "A dog's breakfast," "a train wreck," "a massive hairball" -- those are a few of the terms IT leaders have used to describe the vast volumes of public data now being made available to the general public.

Yet the business opportunities are unprecedented -- open data offers bits and bytes of public information that are freely available for anyone to use to build new businesses, generate revenue, develop new products, conduct research or empower consumers. With the federal government as the single largest source of open data in the U.S., we now have unfettered access to information about everything from bus routes and pollution levels to SEC filings and weather patterns. Savvy businesses are using public data to predict consumer behavior, shape marketing campaigns, develop life-saving medications, evaluate home properties, even rate retirement plans. Continue>>>
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March 26, 2014 8:29 AM

Judicial Watch announced today that on March 18, 2014, it filed two new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to obtain government records about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

One lawsuit seeks information about the December 19, 2013, decision by the Obama administration to establish new "hardship exemptions" that could allow most consumers to escape the Obamacare individual mandate without penalty (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No.1:14-cv-00429)). The second suit seeks records about security and privacy concerns surrounding the Obamacare healthcare.gov web portal (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No. 1:14-cv-00430)).

The "hardship exemptions" suit was filed after a December 20, 2013, Judicial Watch FOIA request to HHS was ignored contrary to law. The lawsuit seeks the following information: Continue>>>
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