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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December 21, 2015 11:19 AM

With only one significant amendment, the D.C. Council Tuesday (15) passed legislation finally authorizing the Metropolitan Police Department body camera program.

Debated since the spring when the Mayor first proposed prohibiting all public access to body-cam video, the legislation allows public requests but also imposes restrictions and allows delayed processing. The Open Government Coalition, part of a citizens’ transparency movement that successfully advocated to assure access, testified twice and providing technical materials including a national survey of policy elsewhere to help the Council understand how to harmonize access and privacy concerns.  Continue...

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December 18, 2015 5:42 PM

Craven County Board of Education members may soon have the opportunity to participate in board meetings without being present.

On Tuesday, a new policy allowing members to remotely join in the deliberations of the board will be considered, according to a lengthy agenda in which several policy issues will be discussed. Just last month, the regularly scheduled meeting had to be canceled due to several members’ absences.

The new policy takes into account “extenuating circumstances,” which may “occasionally prevent a member from physically being present,” according to the agenda. Continue...    

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December 18, 2015 5:23 PM

Add Washington's biggest public disclosure watchdog to the chorus of litigants taking aim at Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s office.

The nonprofit Washington Coalition for Open Government filed suit Monday against Pierce County, accusing Lindquist and his staff of violating the state’s public disclosure law.

Coalition President Toby Nixon said the organization rarely sues government agencies, but members of the WCOG board believed it was necessary because of “egregious” violations by the prosecutor’s office. Continue...

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December 18, 2015 5:11 PM

A nonprofit civil rights organization — with support from the White House — has launched a website that will contain up-to-date information about nearly 20 million traffic stops made by every police department and every police officer in North Carolina over the past 15 years.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice will launch Thursday morning in Durham. The website, the first of its kind in the United States, will rely on public records on police traffic stops, vehicle searches and use of force – broken down by race and ethnicity – since 2000.

The new website is part of a larger revolution in government transparency, said UNC-Chapel Hill political science professor Frank Baumgartner. Where someone used to have to comb through onerous paper files, he said, the Internet offers immediate access to data that will make government more accountable. Continue...

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December 18, 2015 4:59 PM

A New Jersey appeals court ruled in favor of Gov. Chris Christie's office Thursday in a dispute over a reporter's request for the governor's out-of-state travel expense records.

The three-judge panel held reporter Mark Lagerkvist's request exceeded the limits of New Jersey's Open Public Records Act.

Last year, Lagerkvist requested records of Christie's travel to third-party-funded events, including who paid for his travel. The records custodian said it was not specific enough and denied the request.

A lower court sided with the government, and the appeals court concurred Thursday. Continue...

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December 18, 2015 4:51 PM

Wisconsin officials backed away Thursday from a move to cut back on record-keeping requirements amid a backlash by open government advocates.

The board that oversees state public records will instead revisit its August vote changing the definition of so-called transitory records, such as texts and other messages deemed to have only temporary value. Gov. Scott Walker's administration has used the changes to deny requests for text messages and records of visits to the governor's mansion.

The Public Records Board's chairman, Matthew Blessing, made the announcement just three days after the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council filed a complaint with the Dane County district attorney alleging the board had violated the state's open meetings law during its Aug. 24 meeting when it approved the changes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Continue...

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December 17, 2015 8:49 PM

The Iowa Public Information Board, which pledged to try to broker a compromise between law enforcement and the family of a Burlington woman shot and killed by an officer, may dismiss the family’s complaint after government agencies refused to release more information.

Board staff issued a report Tuesday saying the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and Burlington Police Department did not break Iowa’s Open Records law by refusing to release records about the Jan. 6 shooting of Autumn Steele.

Burlington Officer Jesse Hill accidentally killed Steele when he was trying to shoot her attacking dog, authorities said. Steele’s family and the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper filed complaints with the board seeking additional documents, including a complete video of the shooting captured on a police body camera. Continue...

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December 17, 2015 8:44 PM

Public records requests have surged in recent years, thanks in large part to the transparency and open data movements.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which has been evaluating transparency in state spending for six years, reported that 2015 saw dramatic improvements in how and how much information was provided online. The same goes for cities, where the number of open data sets accessible to the public has climbed since the Open Knowledge Foundation began tracking them in 2013.

But not everyone is riding the transparency wave, especially when it comes to the handling of public records requests.

Take Massachusetts. In many ways, the state is a leader in transparency and open data efforts, but when it comes to its public records law, it’s another story. Continue...

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December 17, 2015 8:40 PM

The recent experience of Salem High School journalism student Chris Robbins and the more than $8,000 bill he would face leaves a distinctly chilling effect on the people’s right to know and casts doubt on government’s claims of transparency.

The incident provides an example of the daily grinding away of democracy. It also indicates a problem with the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

Three actions are necessary to ensure government transparency.

The first is a major change in Michigan FOIA that not only makes the law user-friendly, but allows members of the public to request and receive information, including emails, from public bodies without having to mortgage their lives. Continue...

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December 17, 2015 8:29 PM

To finish an open records request, the Department for Children and Families told The Topeka Capital-Journal the newspaper would have to pay almost $3,000, a fee criticized by government transparency advocates.

On Dec. 8, a Capital-Journal reporter requested two days worth of incoming and outgoing emails from six DCF officials. On Tuesday evening, DCF asked for $2,855 for 2,400 emails and more than two days worth of staff time.

“These kinds of outrageous charges close the lid on government more tightly,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. Continue...

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December 17, 2015 8:23 PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Wednesday measures that transform campaign finance rules and a government accountability board — two bills pushed by the very same conservative political groups implicated in an investigation into his campaign.

The new laws arrive five months after Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court closed a three-year investigation into whether Walker and moneyed conservative nonprofits illegally coordinated campaign strategy during the Republican's 2012 recall campaign for governor. The court cleared Walker and conservative allies of any wrongdoing on the basis that Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws were “unconstitutionally vague and broad,” opening the doors for legislative rewrite.

Then the same groups named in the investigation, Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth, pushed for the bills through lobbying and robocalls. Continue...

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December 16, 2015 6:16 PM

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) asked FBI Director James Comey to explain the purpose of a new FBI policy requiring people to upload copies of government-issued identification when filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, in a letter sent Monday.

“I write to express my strong concern that the ID requirement presents serious legal and privacy concerns,” Wyden wrote to Director Comey. “The FBI’s new eFOIA system imposes a requirement that can neither be found in statutory law nor case law.”

The Department of Homeland Security, among other federal agencies, does not require ID for FOIA requests. The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1967 to shed light on the federal government by allowing Americans to request access to federal records.

Classified documents, personal information and other categories of sensitive information are exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Continue...

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FBI, FOIA, Ron Wyden
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