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 5, 2015 4:15 PM

As a candidate for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton promised a more open and transparent government.

“Well, number one, I want to have a much more transparent government, and I think we now have the tools to make that happen,” Clinton said.

“I want to have as much information about the way our government operates on the Internet so the people who pay for it, the taxpayers of America, can see that,” Clinton said as a presidential candidate on Meet the Press. Continue>>>
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March 5, 2015 4:09 PM

Federal agencies served with a Freedom of Information Act request are refusing to release documents related to their purchase, use and disclosure of zero-day exploits, keeping the American public in the dark about a practice that leaves the Internet and its users less secure.

Zero-day exploits are special software programs that take advantage of security vulnerabilities in software that are unknown to the software’s manufacturer. These exploits are frequently used by intelligence agencies and the military as well as, we suspect, by federal law enforcement agencies. But they can be used by any hackers, whether they work for the U.S. government, a foreign government, a criminal group, or anyone else. Zero-day vulnerabilities and the tools that exploit them are extremely powerful, because there is very little that potential targets can do to protect themselves.

But the effectiveness of such exploits depends on their secrecy—if the companies that make the affected software are told about the flaws, they will issue software updates to fix them. Governments thus have a strong incentive to keep information about the exploits they have developed or purchased secret from both the public and the companies who create the software we all use. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 1:12 PM

Leonard Riley Jr. knows his First Amendment rights, and his rights to public information, and he knows when they’ve been violated.

Dissatisfied with the management policies at the Medical University of South Carolina, Riley and other activists organized a silent protest of the university’s board of trustees meetings last fall. He said they had intended to go to every meeting until their complaints were acknowledged.

But at their second appearance, the trustees abruptly decided that the previous protest had been unruly and distracting. The protesters were provided just five seats and prohibited from displaying their signs, an action that Riley considered a violation of their freedom of speech. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 1:07 PM

On June 1 of last year, the Dallas Police Department launched a new records management and field reporting system. Police officials promised it would give the department “improved intelligence-gathering capabilities, increased accountability throughout the investigative process, and improved integration with the District Attorney’s Office.” The new system would also briefly shut down the online records portal. Thirty days tops, they said. No big deal.

“While it is the strong desire of the City of Dallas and the Dallas Police Department to provide timely and accurate public access to report information, every effort must be made to first ensure that we are in compliance with State and Federal laws and guidelines regarding the privacy of certain information,” read a May 28 press release.

Almost three months later, the reports finally came back—kind of. Before the new system, many reports would include a narrative, outlining what allegedly happened during the crime. “Man punched cousin in face.” “Woman shoved 12 Twix bars down her shirt, attempted to walk out of 7-Eleven.” Things like that. Some were just a sentence or two. But others would stretch over a page, adding valuable context. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 1:03 PM

A federal judge Monday blasted the Environmental Protection Agency for its “suspicious” handling of a 2012 Freedom of Information Act request by a conservative group for top officials’ e-mails, saying the agency left “far too much room” for the public to suspect official misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said that while he would not impose sanctions because the Landmark Legal Foundation had not established that the EPA acted in bad faith, the agency either intentionally sought to evade the FOIA request in order to destroy documents or demonstrated extreme apathy and carelessness.

“Either scenario reflects poorly upon EPA and surely serves to diminish the public’s trust,” wrote Lamberth, former chief judge of the federal court of the District. In a 25-page opinion, Lamberth called the EPA’s recurring disregard of public information disclosure obligations “offensively unapologetic” but “more consistent with ineptitude.” Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 1:00 PM

A state lawmaker says it’s time to subject the governor’s office and the Legislature to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). State Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) says he’ll introduced the bill soon.

“It just didn’t seem to make any sense to continue to allow the governor’s office to not be subject to the same laws as everybody else,” he says. “So in this version of the bill, both the Legislature and the governor would be subject to FOIA.”

Dillon has introduced similar measures in the past – none of which have moved. He expects many lawmakers will be reluctant to expose their emails and other records this time around as well. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 12:52 PM

Iowa District Court Judge Stuart Werling ruled Thursday in favor of Davenport in a Freedom of Information Act case.

Judge Werling said the city "substantially complied" with requests by Dr. Allen Diercks and Patricia Lane for public records related to work done by the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche LLC, from Dec. 12, 2012 to March 8, 2013.

Along with the city, the suit listed city administrator Craig Malin and Davenport deputy city clerk Jackie Holecek as co-defendants. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 12:51 PM

Gov. Susana Martinez has agreed to release monthly reports that detail the spending of security officers who travel with her, part of an agreement reached with The Associated Press in a public records case.

Under the settlement, the governor's attorneys agreed that the information in the procurement card reports relates to public business and falls under New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act.

The news organization sued the governor and administration agencies in 2013 for refusing to release records about her work and travel schedules, cellphone calls, and the expenses of her security detail. The parties filed papers Tuesday to dismiss the original lawsuit. continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:35 PM

Taser International, the stun-gun maker emerging as a leading supplier of body cameras for police, has cultivated financial ties to police chiefs whose departments have bought the recording devices, raising a host of conflict-of-interest questions.

A review of records and interviews by The Associated Press show Taser is covering airfare and hotel stays for police chiefs who speak at promotional conferences. It is also hiring recently retired chiefs as consultants, sometimes just months after their cities signed contracts with Taser.

Over the past 18 months, Taser has reached consulting agreements with two such chiefs weeks after they retired, and it is in talks with a third who also backed the purchase of its products, the AP has learned. Taser is planning to send two of them to speak at luxury hotels in Australia and the United Arab Emirates in March at events where they will address other law enforcement officers considering body cameras. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:24 PM

The Beecher School District paid nearly $250,000 to avoid two lawsuits over alleged sexual misconduct by a former public school administrator.

But no lawsuit was ever filed, so taxpayers did not have easy access to this information because of a state law that allows public bodies to enter into non-disclosure clauses that bar either side from discussing specifics of a case.

The result is a Catch-22 that requires taxpayers to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a document they may not even know exists. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:16 PM

When Congress last updated federal open government laws in 2007, it created a new ombudsman intended to serve as an honest broker between Freedom of Information Act requestors and agencies. But unlike most other ombudsmen, this one works for one of the parties in the disputes it's supposed to mediate. Pending legislation would change that by making the Office of Government Information services (OGIS) truly independent from the executive branch.

The proposed change is part of a large package of updated FOIA reforms Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced earlier this month. The lawmakers' goal is to revive and update legislation that passed both houses of Congress last year but finally died in December because the chambers couldn't work out their differences.

This year's version, similar to the previous one, would create a "presumption of openness," placing the burden on agencies to prove that FOIA requests should be denied. Among its other provisions, the bill also would raise the profile of OGIS, which already is in charge of mediating FOIA disputes and making recommendations to Congress to improve the FOIA process. But as of now, OGIS is housed within the National Archives and Records Administration, and like the rest of the executive branch, ultimately reports to the White House. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:05 PM

Some lawmakers in Springfield are again trying to make government less transparent.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, a Republican from Rockford, has filed House Bill 261. If passed, it will end the publication of all public notices in newspapers in favor of government websites. The legislation states that when a law, court order, or contract requires a governmental unit to provide notice by publication in a newspaper, that governmental unit may publish the notice on an official government website instead of in a newspaper.

You might recall a similar assault of transparency occurred in 2011, when a nearly identical bill was filed. It was unsuccessful. Continue>>>
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