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

August 20, 2014 10:22 AM

After promising not to withhold government information over "speculative or abstract fears," the Obama administration has concluded it will not publicly disclose federal records that could shed light on the security of the government's health care website because doing so could "potentially" allow hackers to break in.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied a request by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act for documents about the kinds of security software and computer systems behind the federally funded The AP requested the records late last year amid concerns that Republicans raised about the security of the website, which had technical glitches that prevented millions of people from signing up for insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law.

In denying access to the documents, including what's known as a site security plan, Medicare told the AP that disclosing them could violate health-privacy laws because it might give hackers enough information to break into the service. Continue>>>

August 20, 2014 10:21 AM
The candidates for Ohio governor travel the state shaking hands and having coffee with voters, which makes them seem pretty accessible and open.
But in reality, when it comes to transparency in how they conduct business, experts and observers say Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic nominee Ed FitzGerald are quite closed.
“When it comes to transparency, Kasich will let you know what you need to know, and the rest is none of your damn business,” said Tim Smith, a lawyer, former newspaper editor and director of the Media Law Center for Ethics and Access at Kent State University. “I had higher hopes for FitzGerald, but he has been rather disappointing in that regard.”
Smith is just one of several experts who spoke with The Dispatch who said transparency is not an issue either candidate can win with in the 2014 governor’s race because neither has much he can point to in his favor. Continue>>>
August 18, 2014 12:35 PM

All governments share a common temptation: to use their power to evade accountability. Several police officers proved it again last week in Ferguson, Missouri.

In the middle of heated demonstrations over the shooting of Michael Brown, two reporters – one from the Washington Post – got roughed up and arrested without cause by officers at a McDonald’s restaurant. The officers may have been set off by Post reporter’s refusal to stop filming them with a video camera. They were certainly set off by the journalists’ presence.

It doesn’t get more black and white: Police slamming citizens around and handcuffing them for recording police behavior. In America, no less – where freedom of the press was written into the First Amendment precisely to guarantee journalists’ right to monitor government. Continue>>>

August 18, 2014 12:33 PM

What's your dragon attack plan?

Freedom of Information Acts are a powerful transparency tool between governments and constituents. But they can also yield to some pretty freaky inquiries–as we found out Saturday when an organization of local governments representing more than 350 councils in England and Wales released a list of the most unusual requests they had received so far this year

Of that list, we present here–David Letterman style–the Top 10 Weirdest Petitions English Councils Have Had to Field in 2014, along with some snarky answer suggestions for the council-members:

1. “What plans are in place to protect the town from a dragon attack?” (Wigan Council)
Our answer: We haven’t gotten that far in A Song of Fire and Ice yet, sorry.

2. “Please list all the types of animals you have frozen since March 2012, including the type and quantity of each animal.” (Cambridge City Council)
Our answer: We can only account for the types of animals we have subjected to repeated screenings of Disney’s “Frozen.” The results may be disturbing. Continue>>>

FOIA requests, humor, UK
August 18, 2014 12:32 PM

Now — from the minister who saved the government $15 billion without telling Parliament what he cut; the policy-maker who eliminated Canada's information-laden census and chopped Statistics Canada's budget by $30 million; the MP who siphoned $50 million out of a border security fund to build band shells and gazebos in his riding — comes Tony Clement's latest initiative: a "new action plan on open government."

The Treasury Board president proudly announced this week he has prepared a draft policy "to increase openness and transparency in government." He is inviting the public to comment.It will come as a surprise to most Canadians that a government known for its secrecy and obfuscation is "committed to fostering the principles of open government."

It will astonish political observers that the Tories, who have systematically shut down Ottawa's channels of communication "seek to engage citizens in a public dialogue that will inform the policy creation process." Continue>>>

August 18, 2014 12:31 PM

A conservative legal group on Monday plans to file a lawsuit alleging that the White House’s tight control over document requests has led to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) violations by 12 federal agencies.

Cause of Action said the agencies have not handed over documents that the organization asked for up to 14 months ago and that the requests appear to be under White House review, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Washington Post. The group plans to file its lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Cause of Action pointed to an April 2009 White House memo as the source of the delays, noting that Gregory Craig, former counsel to President Obama, instructed federal agencies to consult with his office on “all document requests that may involve documents with White House equities.” Continue>>>

August 18, 2014 12:30 PM
Attorney Dioné Carroll filed a Freedom of Information Act request, also known as an FOIA, earlier this month on behalf of a group of residents seeking more explanation as to the cost and timeline of the possible Hitchcock Parkway expansion project.
The residents, who go by “Concerned Citizens,” retained Carroll in its long-term battle to shed more light on the project's cost, timeline and environmental impacts. The possible expansion has caused a rift between residents and local officials, with one resident saying they are being heard, just not listened to.
“These requests are really out of frustration,” Aiken resident Bob Gilbert, who heads the Concerned Citizens group, said. “This is for those seeking information about this project by the officials who are pursuing it. We really see a lack of transparency and intransigence. Then we resort to spending money to have legal counsel there to, I guess, increase the formality of our observations.” Continue>>>
August 12, 2014 7:35 AM

Law-enforcement agencies wield great power and therefore must be accountable to the public for its use. This applies regardless of who is paying an officer’s salary, especially when that employer is an institution such as a university.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is weighing in on a legal fight to establish that arrest records and incident reports of Otterbein University and other private universities and hospitals are public documents. DeWine filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of a suit filed by a former Otterbein student journalist Anna Schiffbauer. In it, he asserts that since these private police departments are a creation of state law — granting them governmental police powers, including the authority to arrest — they are public officers required to turn over records.

Westerville-based Otterbein denies that it is required to disclose records and has asked the court to dismiss the suit. Universities, though, should recognize that parents, students and the community have an important interest in police activities. Continue>>>

August 12, 2014 7:34 AM

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett should get off the fence and reappoint Monroe County native Terry Mutchler to a second term heading Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records. Mutchler's six-year term ended in April, and she and her busy staff have been in limbo ever since. The work the OOR does is vital. The office advocates for Pennsylvania citizens, helping to ensure access to government records and training public officials on how to comply with the law.

Interest in open government is keen and never-ending, as it should be in a democracy. Mutchler's office has handled more than 11,000 appeals of Right-to-Know request denials, answered more than 50,000 emails and phone calls and led some 1,400 training sessions for public officials, journalists and citizens.

Mutchler has strong backing for a second term, including letters of support from both Democratic and Republican state officials. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, has praised her integrity, leadership and work ethic. Mutchler hopes to continue working with Pileggi to improve the Open Records Law, to strengthen her office's guidelines by turning them into formal regulations, and to continue training public officials. Continue>>>

August 12, 2014 7:32 AM

The US wants transparency. It says governments that post all their data online are more prosperous and stable than their opaque, Kafkaesque counterparts. But after the stage lights in Washington DC's Foggy Bottom district are dimmed on the US-Africa summit this week, and African leaders have jetted back to their respective capitals, the question on everyone's mind might be: will African leaders really sit around a table with NGOs and heed their calls? One of Africa's thought-leaders says she isn't so sure and thinks African open‑government activists might need to adopt a new strategy.

"We need to learn from the gay rights movement," Ory Okolloh told me when we met on the sidelines of the Open Knowledge festival in Berlin last month.

A fixture of Africa's nascent open government movement, Okolloh's much-lauded website, Mzalendo, put her on the map by giving Kenyans the ability to track their once secretive parliament, earning her a place on Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people. She blogs about data openness and once used her perch as Google's policy manager in Africa to push for transparency around the continent. But she worries that the global open government movement is "hitting a wall" in its efforts to hold politicians accountable to their citizens. Continue>>>

Federal Government
August 12, 2014 7:31 AM

The recent state Senate investigative report into Caltrans and the Bay Bridge does more than deal with troubled decision-making and construction work. It also includes a strong push for greater public transparency throughout state government.

The report commissioned by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and his Senate Transportation and Housing Committee ends with 16 conclusions and recommendations. The first among them is this: “Transparency in the affairs of the public is paramount and leads to accountability, which leads to better results.”

Caltrans itself, in a July 25 letter and report to DeSaulnier about lessons learned, said the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee that took responsibility for the bridge construction “should have been more transparent.” The committee meetings were closed, and Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said in the letter that “this process could have been more effective had it occurred during regular public meetings.” Continue>>>

August 12, 2014 7:29 AM

Women in state government make about 88 percent of what men do, a disparity that crosses seniority levels, union membership and fields of work, an analysis by the Statesman Journal found.

The gap is narrower than the one that exists statewide, but Gov. John Kitzhaber requested in a letter sent July 11 that the Department of Administrative Services make closing it a top priority. The agency is now conducting its own internal study of men's and women's pay.

"We're at a better place to start (than Oregon generally), but that doesn't mean there's not a gap," DAS Director Michael Jordan said. "We're trying to compare similar work on a gender basis and understand if there are any structural issues around how we pay for that work. The data will at least suggest some further questions for what we need to look at." Continue>>>

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