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

September 15, 2014 3:04 PM

Secretary of State William F. Galvinís office has long been the referee that journalists and citizens rely on when government agencies refuse to release records ranging from crime reports to internal audits. But time and time again, records show, his office has kept government information secret instead of making it public.

Galvinís office recently refused to help a central Massachusetts blogger obtain records for a 63-year-old murder case, records that would ordinarily be public. Galvinís deputy ruled the State Police did not have to release the file because the investigation ìremains ongoingî ó even though the suspected killer died decades ago and police said they werenít pursuing any new leads.

ìI think the state is in the business of protecting the state,î said a disappointed Craig Shibley, who publishes the Barre Muckraker blog. Continue>>>

September 15, 2014 2:39 PM

The chairman of the Virginia Press Associationís Freedom of Information Committee believes Suffolkís city attorneyís advice to hold meetings of a new task force in the open is on the right side of the law.

ìYouíre doing the publicís business, and any reason not to have it public should be very narrowly defined,î said Dick Hammerstrom, whoís also an editor at The Free-Lance Star in Fredericksburg. ìTheyíre spending the publicís money, and they want to decide how to spend it privately. It just goes against any concept of open government. The public would want to know what theyíre deciding, especially because it involves the education of their children.î

The new Joint City/School Task Force includes two members each from the City Council and the School Board, appointed by the mayor and School Board chairman, respectively. It was established after City Council members, including Mike Duman, recommended the idea. Duman had hoped the meetings would be closed to the public, believing it would encourage more candid discussion. Continue>>>


September 12, 2014 9:31 AM

Call records and text messages from Pierce County (WA) Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s personal mobile phone aren’t private if they’re related to public business.

The idea drives a unanimous ruling issued Tuesday by the Washington State Court of Appeals. “That such government-business-related text messages were contained on a personal cellular phone is irrelevant,” states the ruling, authored by Judge J. Robin Hunt.

The decision adds new reasoning to a growing list of cases that address government officials’ use of private devices to conduct public business, and the implications for the public’s right to know. Continue>>>

September 12, 2014 9:29 AM

Residents will soon have the option to request town data using Myersville’s Freedom of Information policy. No one has questioned why the Maryland rural western Frederick County town of 1,678 residents did not have a Freedom of Information Act, Town Manager Kristin Aleshire said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re just keeping up with the times,” Aleshire said.

Myersville, incorporated in 1904, may adopt a policy that is similar to the Hyattsville FOIA model. “We found it to be a good fit for a smaller town,” Aleshire said.

Before a freedom of information request was available, people would come into the town office to look at government documents and other information, the town manager said.
The information policy, which enables people to have access to government records without unnecessary cost or delay, will provide specific, nonexempt information to the extent that it is available. Continue>>>

September 12, 2014 9:27 AM

Over time federal agencies have flipped the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on its head. Congress clearly intended the FOIA to be a tool for the public to pry information out of federal agencies. In recent years, however, agencies have blatantly abused opaque language in the law to keep records that might be embarrassing out of the public’s hands forever.

One of the clearest examples of this problem has been playing itself out in court rooms over the last few years as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has successfully argued against the release of a 30-year-old “draft” volume of the official history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs Disaster. There are few records in the federal government that are seen to merit such secrecy. This draft CIA history is afforded stronger protections than the President’s records, or even classified national security information. Members of the public are able to access similar records generated by the White House as early as twelve years after the President leaves office. Even most classified national security information is automatically declassified after 25 years. Yet, the CIA continues to insist that releasing a draft volume of a history of events that occurred more than 50 years ago, and are already generally understood by the public, must be kept secret.

How is this possible? The record can continue to be withheld because it fits under the rubric of the FOIA’s exemption for “inter- and intra-agency records.” While this exemption was originally intended in part to allow agency officials to give candid advice before an agency has made an official decision, agencies have stretched its use to cover practically anything that is not a “final” version of a document. As long as a record meets the technical definition of an “inter- or intra-agency record,” there is nothing the public — or courts — can do to make an agency release it. Continue>>>

September 12, 2014 9:26 AM

West Seneca NY Assemblyman Michael Kearns is giving the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities 10 more days to respond to his Freedom of Information request, or he says he's taking legal action.

The FOIL request stems from seven registered sex offenders who moved to a West Seneca neighborhood -- without notice to residents -- nine months ago. "We are now at the point where we are not getting cooperation or formal answers to our questions in writing," Kearns said at a press conference Thursday, where he announced that he's appealing the OPWDD's lack of response.

Since April, Kearns has been trying to get the answers to neighbors' questions and records pertaining to the sex offenders, including the policies that led to them living on Leydecker Road. Continue>>>

September 12, 2014 9:24 AM

In confusing public relations with public governance, the Ferguson City Council took one step forward and two steps back this week. On Monday, in advance of a Tuesday night City Council meeting, the public relations firm hired by the city announced that the City Council was “implementing several changes and new programs in response to community concerns.”

The changes appear to be good first steps to helping the city learn from the unrest that has gripped the region for the past month, following night after night of protests after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Canfield Drive.

The City Council will implement a civilian review board for its police department, the public relations firm said. It will reduce court fines and reform a municipal court system that issues more warrants per capita than any city in Missouri. Continue>>>

September 8, 2014 8:15 AM

Libertarians' pursuit of federal officials' text messages may proceed, a federal judge ruled, denying in part the Environmental Protection Agency's motion to dismiss a think tank's claims.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), in response to the rejection of Freedom of Information Act requests for EPA-related texts, claimed the EPA "destroyed" more than 5,000 messages on agency-issued cell phones that contained "substantive agency communications." The EPA, in response, claimed that text messages were not "records" it was required to retain under the Federal Records Act.

CEI, a Washington, D.C.,-based "educational and public policy research institute," challenged the determination in Federal Court.The EPA sought dismissal for failure to state a claim. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer on Thursday granted in part and denied the motion in part. Continue>>>

September 8, 2014 8:13 AM

Late last month, I found myself pleading with a U.S. Army FOIA specialist. How can you have no records for my request? My FOIA request for records of debarred contractor was three months old at this point, and my call to the FOIA Public Liaison (if that's really what he was) had succeeded in prompting some movement by the Army. But this wasn't what I was expecting.

On Aug. 25, I got a letter pronouncing the final word on my May 20 request. No records exist. How could that be possible, I wondered.

Two days later, before I had a chance to start hyperventilating again, I got an email from another branch of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency. This time, it came with a 50-page PDF, with most names redacted, of course, but featuring enough information to piece together why this individual ended up on the federal government's list of individuals and companies barred from federal contracts. Continue>>>

September 8, 2014 8:11 AM

The federal web development team 18F is building a one-stop portal for requests for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The move advances a key goal of the Obama administration's open government action plan -- the creation of a consolidated online FOIA service.

18F is developing the portal in collaboration with a FOIA Task Force with representatives of the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (an early participant in, a FOIA request portal that covers multiple agencies), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget.

18F has released an early prototype on what a government-wide FOIA portal might look like. According to a blog post, the new tools are designed to streamline the request process, and to provide access to records and materials that have already been released under previous FOIA requests. There's no timeline yet on when a portal might be ready for beta testing or public launch. Continue>>>

Army, foia portal, SANS, vistA
September 8, 2014 8:09 AM

Last week I noted this story about a judge rejecting government arguments to withhold documents on the Treasury Department's relationship with mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie. FOIA expert Harry Hammitt writes in: "The case they cite to was in the Federal Circuit that doesn’t hear FOIA cases at all, but occasionally deals with some related issue. I read this to mean the court said Fannie Mae’s deliberative process claim wasn’t appropriate under the circumstances, not that the records definitely were not privileged." Hammitt, by the way, writes Access Reports, an in-depth and authoritative publication on freedom of information and privacy law.

Intercepted: The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald's aggressive new outlet, FOIA'd emails between the CIA public affairs office and reporters. The resulting story accuses Los Angeles Times national security reporter Ken Dilanian of being a patsy for the CIA. I won't wade into the thorny ethical issues the story raises, except to say that this is your regular reminder that nearly everything you write in emails to federal agencies can be FOIA'd. Choose wisely. What is more interesting for our purposes, however, is what the CIA redacted from the emails. From The Intercept:

"It’s impossible to know precisely how the CIA flacks responded to reporters’ queries, because the emails show only one side of the conversations. The CIA redacted virtually all of the press handlers’ replies other than meager comments that were made explicitly on the record, citing the CIA Act of 1949, which exempts the agency from having to disclose "intelligence sources and methods" or "the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency." The contents of off-the-record or background emails from CIA press handlers clearly don’t disclose names, titles, or salaries (which can easily be redacted anyway); they may disclose sources and methods, depending on whether you view manipulation of American reporters as an intelligence method. (The Intercept is appealing the redactions.)" Continue>>>

September 8, 2014 8:08 AM

Defending the U.S. Constitution is popular these days, when it centers on gun rights, states’ rights or search and seizure protections.

As we guard the principles of our nation’s founders, let’s not overlook the all-important First Amendment of the Constitution and its guarantee of free speech and free press, which, along with public access to government information, are crucial to our democracy.

The non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has been fighting for these First Amendment liberties and the doctrine of open government since the foundation was created more than 35 years ago. Continue>>>

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