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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April 8, 2015 12:56 PM

Following this year's regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, there was plenty of debate about what lawmakers in Charleston did and did not do. Some saw legislation coming out of the newly Republican-controlled legislature as steps backward, while others argued that legislators pushed through badly needed bills.

In terms of the public's interest, though, it's clear lawmakers did make important progress on one topic: access to public records. And it came in surprising fashion: The legislation that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law last week started out focused on eliminating some information from public view.

As first introduced, House Bill 2636 had one purpose. That was to exempt applications for permits to carry concealed weapons from release under the state's public records act. Advocates for the bill argued that releasing the names and addresses of permit-holders violated their privacy and would make them targets of criminals seeking to steal weapons. Continue>>>
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April 8, 2015 12:53 PM

A bipartisan Freedom of Information Act reform bill, HR-653, that has passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee could come to a House floor vote soon, with Senate action potentially following.

The desire to boost agency compliance with the information release law is one area of federal workplace policies in which the two parties and two chambers are in general agreement, with both the House and Senate having passed a similar bill last year. However, the measure never reached enactment because of several minor differences that could not be worked out in time before Congress adjourned for the year.

The bill would among other things establish a presumption that agencies must disclose documents unless they can show that a specific harm would result from disclosure. It also would impose a “sunset” after 25 years of an exception under which information was withheld, limit the exception for pre-decisional deliberative records, give requesters new rights to challenge through a grievance-type procedure an agency’s decision to withhold information, and make agencies liable for paying the costs of successful court challenges to withholdings. Continue>>>
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April 8, 2015 12:50 PM

Chicago resident and political activist Freddy Martinez filed a second lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department in September for not responding to his Freedom of Information Act requests about how police are using cell phone trackers.

Across the country, citizens have growing concerns about the possibility of technology being used by law enforcement to invade their privacy. When pressed for more information about how law enforcement could be using potentially invasive technology, city officials have denied the requests of Martinez and other residents. 

“Law enforcement has to follow certain procedures, and those procedures are designed to allow the government to intrude upon otherwise private spaces, but only for compelling reasons,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That’s what the probable cause standard is supposed to do. It’s supposed to put a judge in between law enforcement and the public and make sure there’s a really good reason for law enforcement to be in your phone.” Continue>>>
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April 8, 2015 12:46 PM

Two spokespeople from the Attorney General’s Office came to the Sharon Community Center on March 26 to hold a free educational forum on the Open Meeting Law. Here is an overview of what Sharon citizens need to know:

The state’s Open Meeting Law (OML) ensures public access to the work being done by boards and commissions by requiring sufficient advanced notice of meetings, open deliberation during those meetings, and public access to those meetings, according to the attorney general’s office.

Sharon's public committees are subject to OML. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 2:02 PM

Wisconsin's new attorney general, Brad Schimel, contended in a recent column that the state's open government laws "are outdated and do not adequately address today's technological environment." He promised to initiate a process to provide "clearer guidance...without reducing rights to access."

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a state group devoted to protecting public access to meetings and records, supports this effort. The group's "Legislative Wish-List" calls for establishing clear rules regarding the use of new technologies, so they do not make it harder for the public to track the actions of government.

Issues surrounding records access and technology have also enjoyed the national spotlight in recent weeks as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended her use of a private email account for public business. Clinton cited "convenience" as her reason for this decision, which she admitted was a mistake. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 1:59 PM

Federal district judges in Washington are the gatekeepers of government records in high demand. The CIA torture report. Prosecution memos about multibillion-dollar deals with big banks. And, now, Hillary Clinton's emails.

More lawsuits are filed in Washington over access to federal records than in any district court in the country. Nearly half of the 462 cases filed in 2014 under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were brought in Washington, according to a review of court filings by The National Law Journal. [See Chart.]

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, with its long history as the major forum for public-records disputes, helps shape the resolution of cases in other courts, lawyers who focus on FOIA said. Rulings by Washington judges influence — even if they don't legally bind — courts around the country. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 1:07 PM

The expanding reach of the Freedom of Information Act has introduced a new dynamic at federal agencies, and it is driving the need for IT professionals in the public sector to understand and conduct electronic discovery for records being requested by individuals and private parties under FOIA.

According to the Justice Department, more than 440,000 FOIA requests were fulfilled (either in full or partially) in 2013, yet a backlog of more than 95,000 from that year remains. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and Justice fulfilled the most requests, but nearly all federal agencies are subject to the law.

The broadening scope and scale of e-discovery in the public sector brings a new onslaught of challenges and considerations that are well-known among corporate legal and IT teams but relatively new to government agencies. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 1:04 PM

The State Department says is it overwhelmed by an increasing number of Freedom of Information Act requests, which it is struggling to process, Politico reports.

Adding to the deluge of requests, FOIA lawsuits have risen 60 percent over the last fiscal year, Politico noted of the increases, which if continued at the current pace could hit a 93 percent increase by year's end.

A total of 73 lawsuits against the State Department were pending as of March 31, Politico said. Of those, 29 came in within the past month. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 12:58 PM

As the Garden City Board of Trustees continues to negotiate for a settlement with purchasers of a disputed parcel of land at Franklin Court, the New York State Committee on Open Government issued an advisory opinion this week that said the Board may have violated the law in how it discussed various aspects of the sale.

On December 19, 2013, the Village Board voted unanimously to sell a one acre parcel of open space to a group known as Franklin Mews Group LLC. The closing took place the following day. Residents of Franklin Court who were not members of the LLC were dismayed when, during the summer of 2014, a six foot fence was installed with locking gates and “private property” signs, and they began demanding details about how the transaction was approved.

Among the details that they discovered was that according to the official minutes of Village meetings, the December 19th meeting was the only time the sale of the property was discussed. (However, Trustee Richard Silver, writing in an op/ed in the Garden City News, stated that the Board actually had discussed whether to sell the property during budget meetings in February 2013.) Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:43 PM

A group of government watchdogs filed a lawsuit against College of DuPage on Thursday alleging numerous violations of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit -- filed by Edgar County Watchdogs and American Transparency or Open the Books -- claims the College of DuPage has been refusing valid FOIA requests, improperly withholding public documents and backdating responses.

The lawsuit calls into question the college's responses to a dozen FOIA requests sent in February and March. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:39 PM

Oakley's police department, ground zero for the controversy that's erupted in the small town of about 300, sat quiet Thursday night.

But a judge's order for the village to pay nearly $19,000 for attorney costs has one trustee speaking loud and clear.

"It's terrible; we ain't got that - we ain't got that money," Oakley Trustee Norm Wolfe said. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:31 PM

D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS) is regularly investigated for its inefficient responses to life-threatening emergencies. Recent examples include a man who collapsed next to a fire station and died after receiving no immediate help; a man who died after police apparently shooed away an ambulance; and just last month, a toddler who died after choking on a grape, when emergency personnel a block away were not dispatched.

Yet despite the public scrutiny, FEMS has also proved itself slow on the uptake when it comes to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Last year, National Weather Service programmer Ryan Schuster and a handful of civic hackers at Code for DC decided to parse through the data to better understand the District’s emergency dispatch system, and where inefficiencies might lie. The project was called the Emergency Response Data Analysis project. Continue>>>
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