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 27, 2014 9:43 AM

More than a year ago, state Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel proposed the establishment of an “online checkbook” for the state of Ohio. Once up and running, a database maintained by the treasurer’s office would allow anyone to go online to see just what the state was paying for.

Dovilla introduced House Bill 175, which would require the treasurer’s office to establish the Ohio State Government Expenditure Database. It would be a searchable database that would allow filtering by category of expense, by payment made to specific vendors and other criteria. It would also include state and school- district employee salaries.

The legislation isn’t perfect. Though public- school expenditures would be available, charter schools are specifically exempt. Also exempt would be public-employee retirement payments. But while such favoritism is a problem, the protection of those sacred cows shouldn’t stand in the way of passage. Continue>>>
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May 27, 2014 9:41 AM

Radford schools are promising that future audio files of board meetings will end up much less expensive than the $40-an-hour rate quoted initially to an interested resident.

That was the rate before then-school board candidate Mark Schafer contacted columnist Dan Casey. Casey’s April 10 column (“Radford school board recordings out of reach”) exposed a school system not quite up-to-date in its use of technology, and ignorant or indifferent to certain provisions of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The schools lowered the hourly rate to $33.58 after Casey asked a couple of pointed questions. Like whether Schafer’s request for copies of 20.75 hours of audio files should really require 20.75 hours of an IT tech’s time, and if the $830 tab covered only “actual costs” of duplication — essentially, the cost of that person’s time — without overhead, as the state’s Freedom of Information Act requires.

The latter question prompted the schools to shave a few bucks off the rate. It was the other question, though, that enlightened: Duplicating 20.75 hours of digital sound files requires 20.75 hours of an IT guy’s time? Really? Continue>>>
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May 27, 2014 9:39 AM

The Genoa Township-based Brain Injury Association of Michigan will not back down from its demand that catastrophic-injury-fee data be made public, despite an unfavorable ruling last week, an association official said.

The Michigan Court of Appeals last week ruled that the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, created under the state’s no-fault insurance law, should remain exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act.

“It takes the teeth out of FOIA. Now we essentially have an insurance industry who has been granted an opportunity to keep their veil of secrecy when it comes to setting rates,” Constand said. Continue>>>
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May 27, 2014 9:38 AM

Lately I’ve been on something of a public records binge. I asked for records about my license plate reader data from local law enforcement agencies. I asked for complaint records from the Federal Trade Commission about a sketchy Bitcoin mining hardware maker. A few more requests are still pending.

And last summer, I asked United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency for my travel records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Recently, I got an answer back—sort of.

As someone who enters and exits the country with some decent regularity, I figured there had to be some records. Specifically here’s what I requested: Continue>>>
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May 22, 2014 9:55 AM

Before they headed back to Raleigh for the short session, lawmakers predicted the legislature would devote its time this year to The Three E's — education, environment, economy.

We'd like to add another "E" to the list — employees, as in government employees. North Carolina falls short on legislation related to workers employed by you, the public. Lawmakers could remedy the situation by passing The Government Transparency Act.

Unlike people in almost every other state, North Carolinians are denied access to pertinent information about the people they employ — people such as policemen, teachers, city managers, the person collecting your taxes. If a government employee is fired, you cannot find out why. Did that person do wrong? Or was he or she wrongly dismissed? You'll have to guess. Continue>>>
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May 22, 2014 9:53 AM

In a bid to clear the way for a controversial Senate nominee, the Obama administration signaled it will publicly reveal a secret memo explaining its legal justification for using drones to kill American citizens overseas.

The Justice Department, officials say, has decided not to appeal a Court of Appeals ruling requiring disclosure of a redacted version of the memo under the Freedom of Information Act.

The decision to release the documents comes as the Senate is to vote Wednesday on advancing President Obama's nomination of the memo's author, Harvard professor and former Justice Department official David Barron, to sit on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Continue>>>
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May 22, 2014 9:52 AM

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2014/05/day-three-of-redist...

Senate President Don Gaetz testified under oath Wednesday that it was “entirely proper” for him to meet in secret with House Speaker Will Weatherford to reach a deal over a congressional map as part of the Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting process.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, who along with Weatherford was chairman of his chamber’s redistricting maps in 2011-12, told the court that he and Weatherford met twice and agreed to settle on the Senate’s map design for the final joint congressional map. It included a provision that boosted the number of black voters in the meandering congressional District 5, a Democrat-majority district that slices through dozens of towns to collect black voters from Jacksonville to Orlando.

“It was entirely proper, it was entirely ordinary that we would meet as two committee chairs to work out differences,’’ Gaetz said during more than three hours of testimony. Continue>>>
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May 22, 2014 9:50 AM

The Vancouver Police Department now accepts freedom of information requests submitted via email.

Until today, requests made to the VPD under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act had to be mailed or faxed.

“The Information and Privacy Unit does not accept FOI requests or other correspondence by e-mail or by the Internet,” a line of bolded text previously stated on the VPD’s website. Continue>>>
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May 22, 2014 9:47 AM

First Look Media, the news organization created by Pierre Omidyar, today announced that it will provide grants totaling up to $550,000 to three organizations at the forefront of integrating freedom of the press with technology. The funding includes:

 - A grant of up to $350,000 to Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) over two years to help the new organization further strengthen its operations. FPF started as a crowdsourcing site for journalism outlets, but now also provides newsroom software that allows people to submit anonymous whistleblower tips electronically. FPF is recognized as an important voice in supporting and defending public-interest journalism, particularly national security reporting. Team members from First Look’s The Intercept, including Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Micah Lee, are on the board of the organization.

- A $100,000 grant to Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) for a media technology fellow to provide strategic insights around technology issues related to press freedom. As one of the country’s premier non-profits devoted to the legal rights of journalists, Reporters Committee has taken the lead in supporting First Amendment and press rights cases, as well as Freedom of Information Act efforts. Continue>>>
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May 22, 2014 9:46 AM

Open government isn't a new concept. Thanks to the proliferation of the printing press, the Age of Enlightenment blasted through Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and brought demands for new rights: free speech, assembly, and, of course, the freedom of the press.

Shedding light on the powers-that-be tends to inspire accountability. These days, you don't even need a bulky printing press or ink. Whether you're writing, coding, or petitioning for change on social media, you're in a pretty good position to change the way things get done in government. Just grab your laptop and get started!

We've been spreading the word on transparency and participation during our Open Government Week, but if you're wondering to yourself, "What is open government?", start with our video playlist below. Continue>>>
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open government
May 19, 2014 7:21 AM

In 2012, we pointed out how ridiculous it was that then Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano, who self-described herself as a Luddite, admitted that she didn’t use email at all. This seemed troubling, given that DHS was ostensibly in charge of cybersecurity, and you’d hope that the boss would understand the basics of email. Of course, she later admitted to the real reason why she didn’t use email: it created a paper-trail that would make her too accountable….

In the wake of the recent (and absolutely ridiculous) story about DHS inspector general Charles Edwards and his litany of misdeeds, Shawn Musgrave, over at Muckrock, decided to file some FOIA requests for any emails between Edwards and Napolitano. In response, DHS gave a “no responsive records” answer, noting that (as many had reported), Napolitano didn’t use email.

However, as Musgrave points out, that’s not actually true. There are multiple examples of emails “sent” by Napolitano that have been previously released — it’s just that it’s clear they were actually sent via a DHS staffer, rather than Napolitano herself. This is known because of another FOIA request from Musgrave, concerning any emails about Napolitano’s resignation from DHS, which turned up (ta da!) an email sent by a (redacted) staffer on behalf of Napolitano: Continue>>>
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May 19, 2014 7:19 AM

Before heading back to Raleigh for the short session, lawmakers predicted the legislature would devote its time this year to The Three E’s – education, environment, economy.

We’d like to add another “E” to the list – employees, as in government employees.

North Carolina falls short on legislation related to workers employed by you, the public. Lawmakers could remedy the situation by passing The Government Transparency Act.

Unlike people in almost every other state, North Carolinians are denied access to pertinent information about the people they employ — people such as policemen, teachers, city managers, the person collecting your taxes. Continue>>>
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