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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May 6, 2014 9:48 AM

Given all the hype around so called big data at the moment, it would be easy to dismiss it as nothing more than the latest technology buzzword. This would be a mistake, given that the application and interpretation of huge – often publicly available – data sets is already supporting new models of creativity, innovation and engagement.

To date, stories of big data's progress and successes have tended to come from government and the private sector, but we've heard little about its relevance to social organisations. Yet big data can fuel big social change.

It's already playing a vital role in the charitable sector. Some social organisations are using existing open government data to better target their services, to improve advocacy and fundraising, and to support knowledge sharing and collaboration between different charities and agencies. Crowdsourcing of open data also offers a new way for not-for-profits to gather intelligence, and there is a wide range of freely available online tools to help them analyse the information. Continue>>>

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May 6, 2014 9:46 AM

Recently, in a victory for open data, both chambers of Congress passed with bipartisan support the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. The bill now heads to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature. The DATA Act would drastically improve the public’s access to federal spending data by expanding the universe of information the government is required to post online and creating government-wide financial data standards.

Leading the effort to implement the law’s provisions will be the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget. Treasury is a promising open data steward, but unfortunately the OMB’s history doesn’t inspire confidence in its commitment to the law.

Treasury has made good-faith efforts to answer questions, accept feedback and collaborate on designing the new face of federal spending. It reached out to a broad community of users and established avenues for public input. These efforts, combined with its expertise in government financials, have all the makings of a vastly improved system. Continue>>>
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May 6, 2014 9:45 AM

One thing is clear — city officials want citizens to see how local government operates.

Last month, the city of Aztec added a new page to its website in the effort to make public city records more accessible.

The new page features links to request public records, access the city's annual budgets, look at gross receipts collections per year, examine bids and contracts, read the city's 10-year fiscal analysis and summary, and other information.

"It's a trend. We don't want to just give lip service to transparency, but make it a reality," Ray said. "Local government is a different mentality for us — everything is out there for us, anything to do with our daily decisions, budget documents, public records requests. We thought, if we're going to have a tech-savvy community, let's make a page dedicated to transparency. It comes from what we've been hearing from all levels of government for the last 7 or 8 years." Continue>>>
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May 6, 2014 9:44 AM

Prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity, a divided Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court said in 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or proselytize.

The ruling by the court's conservative majority was a victory for the town of Greece, N.Y., outside of Rochester. The Obama administration sided with the town.

In 1983, the court upheld an opening prayer in the Nebraska legislature and said that prayer is part of the nation's fabric, not a violation of the First Amendment. Monday's ruling was consistent with the earlier one. Continue>>>
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May 6, 2014 9:42 AM

Adopting a tactic that has been used by officials ranging from Sarah Palin to staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sending emails from private accounts to conduct official business.

I know because I got one myself. And three other people who interact with the governor's office on policy or media matters told me they have too. None of the others wanted to be named.

The tactic appears to be another item in the toolbox of an administration that, despite Cuomo's early vows of unprecedented transparency, has become known for an obsession with secrecy. Emailing from private accounts can help officials hide communications and discussions that are supposed to be available to the public.

"Government business should never be conducted through private email accounts. Not only does it make it difficult to retrieve what is a government record, but it just invites the suspicion that a government employee is attempting to evade accountability by supervisors and the public," said Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, a frequent requester of records under the state's Freedom of Information Law. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:53 PM

The law allowing residents and business to request public records may be dubbed the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but as municipalities are seeing more and more requests come in each year, officials say the cost to comply with the law is anything but free.

A Daily Herald survey of 55 municipalities showed that the number of Freedom of Information Act requests received has increased in nearly all towns over the past few years that officials have been tracking the numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, 17 suburbs saw an increase of more than 25 percent. Towns including Aurora, Hampshire, Des Plaines and Prospect Heights saw the number of requests increase by more than 50 percent.

Municipal clerks and lawyers said that responding to these requests takes staff time and money away from other responsibilities to the point of being a burden, but First Amendment experts say it is worth the cost to increase transparency of government. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:52 PM

A string of legal cases against lawmakers that include two Democrats facing political corruption charges has magnified the usually quiet race for the office overseeing California elections and campaign fundraising.

Candidates vying to become secretary of state are offering competing plans to inject transparency and restore public faith in government.

A race that typically exists in the political backwaters of a California election season popped on to the public stage earlier this year when one of the top candidates, Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, was arrested and later indicted on federal corruption charges as part of a wider probe into illicit dealings in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Yee has since pleaded not guilty and dropped his candidacy, even though his name will remain on the June 3 primary ballot. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:51 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature had just sealed a $96.3 billion state budget last year when an outcry erupted over a provision that allowed local governments to deny requests for public documents because the state wouldn't reimburse them.

They restored funding and now support a ballot measure that aims to make sure the episode is never repeated. Proposition 42 would amend the state constitution to require cities, counties, school districts and other local agencies to comply with state laws to make documents available and open their meetings to the public. They also would be required to cover the costs for doing so.

The June 3 ballot measure is backed by unusual bedfellows, including the state Democratic and Republican parties, taxpayer advocates and labor unions. The state Assembly voted 78-0 and Senate voted 37-0 to qualify it for a statewide vote. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:50 PM

Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

3 May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO's General Conference in 1991.

It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom - a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered. It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:49 PM

The FBI may be unfairly withholding its records on a photojournalist who worked an International Monetary Fund protest, a federal judge ruled.

Laura Sennett, who sometimes goes by the alias "Isis," has been published by CNN and the History Channel, among other outlets, and covered the International Monetary Fund spring meeting protests on April 12, 2008. In an affidavit, Arlington County detectives characterized her presence as an "unidentified white female videotaping/photographing the [IMF] event."

Five months after the protests, 10 armed FBI agents raided Sennett's home in Arlington, Va., and seized 26 items. Sennett's son was in the house. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg noted Wednesday, however, that the warrant to search Sennett's home stemmed from the protest's development "into an excuse for petty vandalism." "The search produced 'more than 7,000 pictures, two computers, several cameras and other camera equipment,'" he added. Continue>>>
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FBI, journalists
May 2, 2014 8:15 AM

Seventeen percent of all thefts in the UK involve digital devices which are likely to contain sensitive information, suggest numbers obtained by Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and regional Police forces in the UK by communications firm ViaSat.

The findings were presented at the InfoSec 2014 conference in London, where it was revealed that the number of data breaches reported to the ICO has increased by ten percent in 2104, but the the regulator is only half as likely to issue monetary fines as last year.

“If less than one percent of the devices stolen in burglaries or personal thefts contained any sensitive information, that is still a huge amount of potentially sensitive data in the wrong hands,” said Chris McIntosh, CEO of ViaSat UK. Continue>>>
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international, privacy, UK
May 2, 2014 8:14 AM

The federal government on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for their handling of sexual violence or harassment complaints. On the list are some of the most prestigious schools in the nation, such as Harvard, Amherst and Princeton.

Schools' handling of such cases has come under increased scrutiny as the ratio of women to men on college campuses has increased to 1.4 to 1, and as recent studies have shown that one in five college women had experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault in college. In April 2011, the Obama administration issued aggressive new guidance on how schools should handle sexual violence under Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools receiving federal funds.

"We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, said in a statement. "We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue." Continue>>>
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