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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November 8, 2016 4:01 PM

This seminar on Nov. 16, 2016, will take place from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the University of North Texas student union. A free morning session presented by the Texas Attorney General’s Office will focus on the Texas Public Information Act and cost rules. An afternoon session presented by attorney and FOI Foundation board member Tom Williams will address the Texas Open Meetings Act and will take place from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. There is a $50 fee for the afternoon session. Participants may attend either or both sessions. Click here to register. Lunch is on your own. There are several food options in the UNT student union, where the seminar will be held. (A previously announced luncheon speech option has been cancelled. Those who paid $15 for the luncheon will receive refunds.)

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November 8, 2016 3:59 PM

In Baltimore, it’s recently gotten significantly more expensive to ask the police department for emails under freedom of information laws, which allow journalists and the public to request public governmental records. Here’s the kicker: that change comes shortly after the release of an embarrassing email exchange revealing an officer and a prosecutor making fun of a sexual assault victim.

A journalist using MuckRock discovered the change while making an unrelated request for records. Now, two months after the embarrassing emails surfaced, it’ll cost reporters and other members of the public $50 before even starting a search for emails, making “freedom” of information something of a misnomer.

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November 8, 2016 3:52 PM

Echoing concerns in recent months in a pending federal lawsuit and repeated by a former D.C. Attorney General, a new report again cites the U.S. Attorney here for lack of transparency. This time, for failing to provide data on prosecutions of sexual assaults.

An expert consultant for the Mayor’s Office of Victim Services reported she found it “extremely difficult” to get information needed for her analysis of progress by police and prosecutors since the Council in passing the Sexual Assault Victims Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The law mandated her position and reports.

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November 7, 2016 2:09 PM

Here’s the good news: The 2016 election is not rigged.

Here’s the bad news: Across the United States, the local officials charged with conducting a free and fair election are facing an unprecedented wave of distrust.

“We have never seen this amount of calls. We spend an inordinate amount of time … responding to people,” Tom Schedler, secretary of state for Louisiana, said in October at the Bipartisan Policy Center, commenting on rigging claims. “There is no validity to that whatsoever,” he said. “Unfortunately, most people we’re responding to, it makes no difference what you show them to debunk the theory — they don’t believe it.”

Unfortunately, public outcry isn’t focused on the problems that have led to the U.S. election system being ranked at the bottom of Western democracies by the Election Integrity Project, like gerrymandering, discriminatory electoral laws, campaign finance or voter registration accuracy.

Instead, they’re focused on process, like polling stations, vote counting and post-election results, all of which the U.S. compares well; research shows that voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the United States, with clerical errors and bad data accounting for most reports. In the face of these bogus voter fraud claims, what can federal, state and local officials do?

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November 7, 2016 2:07 PM

A Vermont judge has ruled a private contractor managing medical records for the state has to follow the state's public records law.

Vermont Information Technology Leaders denied a citizen-activist's request for records on how it was spending money received from the state, saying it was a private, nonprofit firm.

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November 7, 2016 2:05 PM

Each year, Hawaii spends tens of millions of dollars to house prisoners on the mainland, a practice that it has maintained for more than 25 years.

But the state's taxpayers are kept in the dark about much of what goes on at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a private Arizona prison where about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners are housed.

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November 4, 2016 12:51 PM

This case (American Immigration Lawyers Association v. Executive Office for Immigration Review) involves a request by the AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records relating to complaints filed against immigration judges, who are federal employees working under the Department of Justice (DOJ). AILA was looking for a pattern of problems with certain judges in their handling of immigration appeals.

When six months went by with no response, AILA sued in district court. This led to what the appeals court characterized in its decision as “a series of rolling disclosures” by DOJ. Eventually (after about a year and a half after the FOIA request), some 16,000 pages had been released involving 767 files involving complaints against immigration judges. While the files had detailed information as to date, nature and result of each complaint, the agency redacted certain information it declared to be exempt. Some of these redactions were under Exemption 6, which relates to personnel files—DOJ withheld individual immigration judges’ names and other identifying information and substituted a code for each judge so the requester could connect various complaints to a particular judge. DOJ went further and blanked out information that was not exempt under FOIA but that the department felt was not responsive to the request even though found in a document that was deemed responsive.

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November 4, 2016 12:47 PM

Data is part of everything we do, especially given the current open data movement. From financial market performance to farmer’s market locations, weather to health care, bridge and road safety to population information, significant amounts of data are yielded and available for aggregation and analysis, and can be applied to improve public services. This is the philosophy behind the open data movement —that if we make all of this data available to the public, at least the high-value data, we can crowdsource public service issues and come up with the best possible solutions.

But open data is only as good as the data analytics platforms and true data transparency policies on which it relies. Bringing big data, open data and data transparency together empowers data to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. Over the last few years alone, I have seen big data used to reduce sepsis, understand Parkinson’s disease, combat child sex trafficking and fight Ebola, among many other noble causes.

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November 4, 2016 12:02 PM

Pittsburgh officials Monday launched Burgh's Eye View , an app that includes a range of public records such as crime statistics, building code violations and excessive noise complaints.

The city Department of Innovation & Performance's Analytics and Strategy team built the app, which also is available as a website, as part of an effort to increase openness and accessibility.

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open data, Pittsburgh
November 3, 2016 12:54 PM

A lawyer for Gov. Pat McCrory told the state Court of Appeals Tuesday morning that the state should be immune from any judgment finding the current administration either cannot or does not comply with open records requests in a timely manner, as alleged by a coalition of media groups.

The group includes Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL News, and other media companies, as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center. All make regular use of public records in their work.

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November 3, 2016 12:36 PM

New England First Amendment Coalition posted their report for October 2016. You can find it here.

November 3, 2016 12:08 PM

For updates from the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, or CFOIC, see their newsletter here.

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