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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June 24, 2014 11:51 PM

Today Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, commonly known as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) warriors, upped the ante in their fight for more transparency from the CIA relating to its Bush-era torture and rendition program. Leopold, a freelance investigative journalist, and Shapiro, a researcher at MIT, have filed a lawsuit against the CIA compelling the agency to release documents about their spying on Senate lawmakers who were tasked with investigating CIA torture.

It was revealed in March that the CIA were spying on the computers of congressional staff working on an extensive report looking into the torture program. The allegations sparked outrage, even from the spy agency's stalwart defenders, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said such surveillance "may have undermined the constitutional framework” of congressional oversight.

This has become a case of secrecy shrouding furtiveness shrouding secrecy: A classified report compiled by the Senate Intelligence Committee that was investigating a highly covert CIA program of torture, which was secretly spied upon by agents, who are now refusing to be transparent about this surveillance. Following the CIA's refusal to respond to an original FOIA request, Leopold and Shapiro are taking their attempt to undo this tight knot of government secrecy to court. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:49 PM

In Gainesville, Fla., it doesn’t take a Freedom of Information request to find out what city officials are chattering about on email. One merely has to go online and read them.

That city recently began posting email correspondence about public business to and from the mayor and the city commissioners. There may be other localities doing it as well, but this is the first one that’s been brought to my attention.

I must give credit to another FOIA blogger, this one from a member of the Society of Professional Journalists who calls the blog “FOI FYI.” The emails can be accessed by date, specific mailboxes, or by specific words in either the subject line or body of the email. You can even export them into a file for further use. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:47 PM

On last night’s C-SPAN Q&A interview series, Sharyl Attkisson said the Obama administration has created “the worst atmosphere” journalists have ever faced, and called the Freedom of Information Act “a joke.”

Attkisson is an award-winning investigative reporter who earlier this year made headlines for resigning from CBS News after a 20-year career at the TV network. Earlier this month, she became a senior independent contributor to The Daily Signal.

Following her departure from CBS News, Attkisson cited her inability to get her stories on the air. Now, she is revealing more details about her departure and explaining what changed from five years ago when she told C-SPAN her job at CBS News was “a dream come true.” While she admits to a declining appetite for her watchdog brand of investigative reporting, Attkisson more alarmingly argued that recently the government has co-opted the Freedom of Information Act, a law that grants citizens the right to access information from the federal government. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:46 PM

A Freedom of Information complaint has been filed against Board of Education Chairwoman Susan Hoffnagle, alleging email communications from February are in violation of FOI law.

The complaint was filed by fellow school board member Ray Rabago, persons with disabilities commission chairman Art Melycher and two others. A chain of emails sent on Feb. 19 between members of the Board of Education, members of the Board of Selectmen and Town Attorney Kevin Nelligan could constitute a meeting, depending on the ruling of the Freedom of Information Commission.

According to state statutes, all meetings must have minutes filed with the town clerk so that the public can have access to meeting details. Rabago said he asked Hoffnagle to post minutes for the email, which he said she declined to do. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:44 PM

Two senators are proposing the most significant reforms to the Freedom of Information Act in four decades, including altering a key exemption that government agencies frequently use to deny access to a vast swath of Executive Branch documents.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and fellow panel member Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow the press and other public requesters to pierce the deliberative process privilege, a broad protection the courts give to records detailing the policymaking process as well as virtually any action leading up to any kind of decision by agency officials. In recent years, the provision—known as Exemption 5—has been ridiculed by transparency advocates as the 'withhold it because you want to' exception to FOIA.

The legislation would also shut down that exemption after 25 years. Federal agencies have sometimes used it to withhold records created 40 years ago or more. However, with respect to presidential records, similar protection falls away after just 12 years unless a formal executive privilege claim is made. (Here, via Leahy's office, are a rundown of the bill and the full text.) Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:42 PM

The legislation signed Tuesday codifies a 1999 Michigan Supreme Court decision that found disclosure of gun registry records to be an invasion of privacy. The information will still be available to law enforcement officials for certain purposes, though there are new restrictions on when police can access the records.

A log of who accessed the records and the reason for doing so also is now required by the new laws.

Michigan lawmakers introduced the legislation backed by the National Rifle Association after a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of gun owners in two counties in 2012. Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:06 AM

The Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government has selected four Johnson County area recipients to receive its 2014 Friend of Open Government Award, it was announced in Topeka today.

This year’s recipients include Rep. John Rubin, Shawnee; Robert and Adlynn Harte, Leawood, and Karen Dillon, a producer with KSTB TV in Kansas City. This year’s awards are based on the four designees’ untiring efforts to open court records for probable cause affidavits supporting arrest and search warrants that a Kansas statute has sealed for 35 years. Thanks in large part to their work, the Legislature enacted a bill unsealing these court records beginning July 1. They had been closed since 1979.

The awards will be presented immediately following a seminar the Sunshine Coalition is co-presenting on the Kansas Open Records and the Kansas Open Meetings Acts that will be presented July 28 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Johnson County Library, 9875 W. 87th Street, in Overland Park. Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:05 AM

Entrepreneurs and innovators can now access machine-readable research data in the areas of energy, healthcare, and space from more than 700 federal research and development facilities to assist them in researching, building, and testing new technologies through a major enhancement to the Research.Data.gov portal.

The open data, from facilities belonging to the Energy Department, National Institutes of Health, and NASA, includes advanced research tools and represents billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded investment, said Doug Rand, assistant director for entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a Data.gov announcement posted this week.

Such activities can have a dramatic influence on US technology in key areas such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and clean energy, to name a few. Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:04 AM

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: A liberal, a conservative, a lawyer and a legislator walk into a bar, well … into a legislative hearing. Oh never mind, we’re going to cut right to the punchline: They agreed on something.

The occasion was last week’s meeting of the Arkansas House and Senate’s committees on state agencies and governmental affairs. The subject on which they agreed was expanding the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. To be sure, they didn’t necessarily agree on the details, just on the continuing need to conduct the public’s business in the sunlight.

The meeting grew out of a request by Rep. Jim Nickles, D-Sherwood, for an interim study on the possibility of expanding the state’s FOI law, which requires most governmental meetings to be open and the papers of most state agencies to be available to the public. Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:02 AM

The S.C. Supreme Court decided last week that government bodies don’t have to let you know what they’re planning to do. The court ruled that bodies like school boards, county councils and city councils can hold regular meetings without ever issuing an agenda, and if they do issue an agenda, they can change it on the fly and depart from it at will.

What that means is that if the members of such a body want to take up an important, controversial issue, such as an unpopular tax increase, they never have to let anyone know that they’re going to discuss it. They can simply bring it up at a regular meeting and deal with it. Pesky citizens, who may have wanted to be heard on the issue, won’t find out about it until it’s too late.

The court ruled this way on a suit from Saluda County. The Saluda County Council had been departing from its posted agenda at meetings, and a citizen filed suit, claiming the state Freedom of Information Act doesn’t allow the body to take up issues that it hadn’t given the public notice it would discuss through the agenda. Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:00 AM

A bill rushed through the closing days of the General Assembly's spring session is drawing the ire of a good-government group that contends it will restrict the ability of citizens to get information about their governments.
Supporters, though, said the bill is a way to help municipalities deal with a comparative handful of people who file excessive requests under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, tying up employees who could better be used doing other work.
“It was intended to fix maybe an unintended consequence of people abusing the FOIA,” said Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, who drafted the bill. “It's not intended to hide information from people.” Continue>>>
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June 19, 2014 11:09 AM

An ethics watchdog group called for the resignation of the state ethics commission director Tuesday, citing her involvement in recent whistleblower payouts.

The organization, Common Cause Georgia, said Executive Secretary Holly LaBerge gained her position as the head of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission as a result of the wrongful termination of other employees. “She’s played a large role in $3 million of taxpayer money getting paid out to people who were fired for doing their job,” said Common Cause Georgia’s Executive Director William Perry.

The nearly $3 million payout resulted from settlements in lawsuits from four former employees who claimed they were wrongfully terminated after investigating complaints about Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign. Earlier this week, settlements were reached with former deputy Sherry Streicker, former information technology specialist John Hair and former staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, totaling to more than $1.8 million. That is in addition to an April settlement which awarded $700,000 plus attorney’s fees to former Executive Secretary Stacy Kalberman. Continue>>>
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