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 5, 2016 9:21 AM

Immigration attorneys and their clients have settled claims with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over thousands of unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests.

Led by Glendale attorney Meredith Brown, a proposed class of immigration lawyers said that by the end of fiscal year 2013, the agency had a backlog of nearly 38,000 FOIA requests that had been pending for more than the 20 days permitted by the law.

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October 5, 2016 9:19 AM

Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies ordered Metro Nashville to pay nearly $57K in attorneys fees to a public records requester, saying that the city “misinterpreted and ignored the ‘promptness’ requirement” in the Tennessee Public Records Act.

Davies found the city was willful in not complying with the law, a requirement for awarding attorneys fees in a public records lawsuit.

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October 4, 2016 10:06 AM

In a dramatic turnaround just hours before a hearing on legislation to create a new Metrorail Safety Commission, revisions to the legislation will beef up legal protections for transparency and public access, as advocates had been calling for.

Previous drafts left it to the safety panel to write its own internal rules on access to records and open meetings, with vague enforcement. These seemed unlikely to satisfy a concerned public, reeling from years of accidents and weak safety consciousness and uncertain if even the current repair program with its painful delays and outages will be enough.

Following criticisms of the first bill from open government groups in the District, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the Washington Post editorial board, a new draft circulated by legislative staff Monday (3) changed course.

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October 4, 2016 10:05 AM

Did the New York Times violate federal law when it published a story about Donald Trump’s 1995 income tax return?

Stories in the Washington Post, Slate and LawNewz.com raise the issue, but all of them report that the First Amendment would likely protect the newspaper.

The Times received three pages from what appeared to be Trump’s 1995 tax returns in the mail from an anonymous sender. The pages were from a New York state resident return, and New Jersey and Connecticut nonresident returns. The returns reported a $916 million loss in 1995 that would have allowed Trump to avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years.

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October 4, 2016 10:03 AM

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to increase transparency at New York City Hall, but his actions on a number of fronts this year have drawn criticism from government watchdogs and fellow Democrats.

Mr. de Blasio is now involved in two court fights to keep emails under wraps, and his administration has adopted a policy that shields police disciplinary records from the public.

The mayor has also reduced the number of news conferences in which journalists can question him and failed to fulfill a promise to disclose when top officials meet with lobbyists.

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October 3, 2016 9:32 AM

Just last year, Alamo Colleges was lauded by the state comptroller's office for its "financial transparency," winning an award for how easy the community college system supposedly makes it for taxpayers to understand how their money's being spent.

Which is odd considering the $2,340 bill the college system recently sent to a reporter asking for some of the most basic public records, information routinely requested by government watchdogs: taxpayer-funded travel records.

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October 3, 2016 9:30 AM

AB 2792 originally called for public approval before any police department in the state agrees to hand over inmates to federal immigration officials looking to deport immigrants.

The version signed into law Wednesday removes public approval from the process but makes communications between cops and feds public records. It also calls for public forums if and when law enforcement agencies transfer inmates to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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October 3, 2016 9:28 AM

Every year, state lawmakers propose revisions to the state Public Records Act, a law passed by initiative in 1972 and amended many times since.

Every year, open-records advocates battle those proposed revisions, with varying degrees of success.

In 2017, the eternal struggle will play out again during the legislative session, but revision-minded lawmakers will have a new weapon to wield: a survey by the Washington state auditor measuring the costs and effects of records requests on state and local governments.

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September 30, 2016 9:30 AM

The investigation by the Reader and Lucy Parsons Labs into the Chicago Police Department's use of civil forfeiture money began with a single, tantalizing detail in a single FOIA'd document.

Lucy Parsons Labs is a Chicago-based nonprofit made up of technologists and activists dedicated to government transparency. In September 2014 we began looking into CPD's use of IMSI catchers, powerful surveillance devices commonly called by their brand name, Stingray. These devices mimic cell-phone towers and force any cell phones in the area to give up personally identifying information—including phone numbers and unique device identifiers—all without an owner's knowledge or consent.

In the purchasing memo for one such device, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, we saw a reference to an account name we hadn't previously seen.

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September 30, 2016 9:19 AM

VCOG's newsletter is a round-up of stories and editorials about open government and freedom of information issues from Virgina and across the country.  Find their September 29 issue here.

September 30, 2016 8:59 AM

In the wake of recent police shootings, the public outcry for transparency has come head to head with law enforcement agencies’ interpretation of freedom of information laws.

The statutes outline the public’s right to records produced by government agencies but also include exemptions for law enforcement records. Those are meant for such situations as protecting the identity of a confidential informant or keeping investigative techniques hidden from criminals.

When incorrectly used, however, the exemptions can result in records being kept out of the public eye.

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September 29, 2016 11:21 AM

Since 2009, the Administration has made significant progress opening up data sets that have never before been public, and creating new pathways to civic engagement. Today, students are able to compare the cost of college with other significant data points, such as graduation rates and average salaries of graduates to determine where to get the most bang for their buck. Communities can map demographic, income, and school data to promote Fair Housing. Patients can find information on the safety and cost of hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians, empowering them to make smarter health care choices. These diverse tools benefit different groups of people, industries, and communities, yet all rely on one thing: open data.

Managing data as an asset and making it available, discoverable, and usable — in a word, “open” — has served to strengthen our democracy, promote government efficiencies, and improve citizens’ quality of life. With open data, we identify gaps and look for solutions to the most pressing challenges we face as a Nation. Open data has the power to make our economy grow and our local communities thrive.

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