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 2, 2014 8:13 AM

From participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre to social audits in Andra Pradesh to tracking snow ploughs in Chicago, many of the most iconic examples of open government innovation have been created not by national governments, but by cities, states or provinces. This is perhaps not surprising, since local authorities are often responsible for the tangible public services, from road maintenance to education, and sanitation to policing, that form the most immediate relationships between government and citizens.

Although The Open Government Guide is mainly written from the perspective of national government implementation, many of the actions described also apply to local government.

To make the Guide more useful and accessible to people concerned with local government transparency, accountability and participation, we have added a new Local Government resource page which highlights examples of open government innovation by local authorities, and commitments that national governments are making as part of the OGP to enable, support and encourage subnational action. It links to topics in the The Guide that are particularly relevant to local authorities, as well as networks and resources developed by others. Continue>>>
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May 2, 2014 8:12 AM

Former Kirkland Reporter editor Carrie Rodriguez received the Washington Coalition for Open Government’s Key Award for winning disclosure of public information that Federal Way city officials had wrongly withheld. Rodriguez is currently the editor of the Federal Way Mirror.

Coalition President and Kirkland City Council member Toby Nixon presented the award to Rodriquez on April 24.

In February, when the council was considering applications from 20 candidates to fill a council vacancy, the city initially released only their names. The city declined to release the application packets, contending that council members are city employees and such “employment” applications are exempt from disclosure. Continue>>>
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May 2, 2014 8:11 AM

There's no doubt the UK is leading the way in open government data. Almost 17,000 datasets are now available on the data.gov.uk website – and the benefits of sharing data with the public are obvious: according to theOpen Data Institute, it has the potential to increase custom for services and products, ease information sharing with other organisations, reduce maintenance cost and encourage innovation.

Perhaps most convincingly of all, open data is predicted to deliver a £2bn boost to the UK economy in the short term, with a further £6-7bn further down the line. Yet simply declaring data public does not automatically make it practical or meaningful. It has to be secure, accessible and presented to users in a format that is easy to use and make sense of.

The huge amounts of sensitive information - such as patient records, payment details or personally identifiable information (PII) – released could potentially be at risk of breaches and misuse. As a result, government is faced with having to find a solution that protects the privacy rights of the individual while at the same time providing organisations with valuable data. Continue>>>
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international, open data, UK
May 2, 2014 8:10 AM

If the NSA spying scandal last year exposed anything besides how controversial the parameters of “national security” are, it’s that our government isn’t as transparent as we thought. Even President Obama said he didn’t know that the U.S. Department of Defense intelligence agency was monitoring the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for as long as 10 years.

The lack of transparency is worrisome because an open government is important—especially in a country that touts its democratic features as much as the U.S. does. A democracy relies on the equal participation of all citizens. So, therefore, an informed public is essential to a well-functioning democracy. “We can only participate effectively in our democracy if we have the information we need to make informed choices that affect us,” according to an article in The Australian.

An informed public is a public that is aware of how the government works and what decisions elected officials are making. The media are an important liaison between the government and the citizenry because they serve this purpose of informing. Continue>>>
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Arkansas, editorial
April 28, 2014 8:13 AM

After the National Day of Civic Hacking drew 11,000 participants last June, lead sponsor Intel decided to take a deeper look at a few promising applications. The goal, according to Brandon Barnett, director of business innovation at Intel Labs, is to conduct practical experiments on how innovation takes place in and across business teams, and to see how large datasets can be used as fuel for new products and services.

Intel's is turning the spotlight on six projects in its Data Services Accelerator, an incubator of open data projects. OMG Transit uses open data from public transportation services to give users end-to-end navigation without using a car. The Disaster Recovery Assistance Tool connects first responders to residents in crisis situations. Purple Binder connects individuals with a range of social service providers, to match needs with available offerings. Public Good Software builds platforms that help organizations connect with and maximize the efforts of donors and volunteers.

The projects are quite different from one another, but a common thread is that they look at social or business problems addressed by large-scale institutions and structures, and look to disrupt them through crowdsourcing and data. Continue>>>
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Civic Hacking, Intel
April 28, 2014 8:11 AM

The sentencing of former Bell, California, city manager Robert Rizzo to 12 years in state prison after being found guilty of 69 charges of public corruption underscores the critical need for local government transparency and advocacy of a culture of ethics within local organizations, according to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and its official California state affiliate, CAL-ICMA.

As a result of the Bell salary scandal, the ICMA Executive Board publicly censured and expelled Rizzo from membership on December 11, 2010. The board found that Rizzo personally benefitted from the misuse of city funds; failed in his fiduciary responsibility to ensure that public funds were legally and properly used for the public's benefit; did not fully and accurately disclose his compensation in a transparent manner; and failed in his obligation to ensure that city matters were transparent and fully communicated to the council and public.

To maintain public confidence and trust, ICMA members are expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct. The 2010 action to publicly censure and expel Rizzo was the strongest action available to the ICMA Board, which considered the case following a thorough investigation by the ICMA Committee on Professional Conduct. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2014 8:10 AM

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) resource for the public and the government. Congress has charged us with reviewing FOIA policies, procedures and compliance of Federal agencies and to recommend changes to FOIA based on what we see. Our mission also includes resolving FOIA disputes between Federal agencies and requesters.

OGIS is a place where anyone can ask for FOIA assistance. In other words we also serve as the FOIA ombudsman -- answering questions, tracking suggestions and providing information. See something we should know about? Have a suggestion to improve FOIA? Continue>>>
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April 28, 2014 8:05 AM

The Chicago Tribune reports that advisers to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were closely involved with the development of certain scenes in CNN's "Chicagoland" documentary, which aired its final eighth episode Thursday evening.

After obtaining hundreds of email exchanges between the documentary's producers and City Hall staffers through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the newspaper has learned that the mayor's office helped craft Chicagoland plotlines and set up shots of Emanuel. The mayor's team also looked over releases sent to the press to formally announce the "Chicagoland" series, which CNN had advertised as non-scripted.

The email exchanges, however, reveal that the series' producers did not always get the behind-the-scenes footage of the mayor they requested. A good deal of the access to the mayor was organized by Emanuel's team, which "eternally frustrated" Marc Levin, Chicagoland's creator and executive producer, the Tribune reported. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2014 8:04 AM

Come June, you can send a message about transparency. Vote yes on Prop. 42. Tell local governments it's their responsibility to build -- and pay for -- a culture of openness. You can also strip from Gov. Jerry Brown, and any of his successors, the ability to gut the public records act by cooking up another cockamamie, disingenuous scheme to turn out the lights.

When Brown wanted to make the transparency law a "best practice," or an option, for local governments last year, he and his legislative minions claimed it was about money. Under the principle of state mandate, state pay, Sacramento is supposed to reimburse local governments for complying with state laws. But reimbursements for PRA and open meeting law compliance are already nonexistent. Just because state government is supposed to pay doesn't mean it does.

The more cynical among us saw something else: a play to make government harder to access and understand. Brown and his crew eventually backed down after a shock wave of criticism. Now, Prop. 42 can end this silly "who pays for it?" issue and California voters can ensure transparency going forward, even though the PRA remains a weak law riddled with loopholes. Prop. 42 won't remove those loopholes, or force self-interested bureaucrats to take transparency seriously. What it will do really is keep things from getting worse. It won't change that California is full of two-faced leaders when it comes to open and ethical government. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2014 8:02 AM

Your teenage son is walking through his Arizona neighborhood, on a sidewalk perhaps 50 feet from the fence that separates us from Mexico. He is visiting his brother at work. Some kids begin throwing rocks across the fence at Mexican border guards. Your son tries to evade the confrontation.

The Mexican border guards respond with gunfire, shooting through the fence to the U.S. side. Your son is killed, shot 10 times in the back and head. Everyone else runs safely away. Witnesses say your son was not involved.

And there is a video camera in Mexico that recorded exactly what happened. Would you want the Mexican government to turn over a copy of that video? Continue>>>
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Arizona, immigration, Mexico
April 28, 2014 8:01 AM

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking public release of the secret Red Team report. After two false starts and a billion dollars down the drain, the National Nuclear Security Administration is seeking to re-start its plan for a multi-billion dollar nuclear weapons production plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with a “Red Team” plan that is shrouded in secrecy. The Red Team, formed in January 2014 at the behest of NNSA Administrator Bruce Held, conducted tours of the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, were briefed on uranium operation there during the month of March, and provided a report to Held on April 15.

The secrecy surrounding the Red Team is almost complete—the only thing known about the team is the name of its leader, Dr. Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge. The names of other members of the team have not been disclosed to the public.

“The National Environmental Policy Act requires the government to conduct a public process before undertaking major federal actions. That process requires hearings, provides an opportunity for public comment, and requires the government to respond to those comments,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. Continue>>>
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Oak Ridge, TCOG, Tennessee
April 24, 2014 7:48 AM

The Freedom of Information Act is widely viewed as a successful piece of legislation that helps increase government transparency. But if Missouri State Rep. Jay Houghton (R) has his way, residents of his state will soon have significantly less access to the financial and health records of Missouri’s meat and agriculture businesses.

Houghton is the author of Missouri House Bill 2094. Under Houghton’s bill, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking information about animal and environmental health records from food providers in the state would legally be denied.

Specifically, HB 2094 would block access to data collected under the Animal Traceability Program (ATP). The ATP was enacted for the specific purpose of tracking down the spread and origins of diseases in livestock and agriculture crops. Continue>>>
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