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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March 12, 2015 12:18 PM

The public's right to see government records is coming at an ever-increasing price, as authorities set fees and hourly charges that often prevent information from flowing.

Though some states have taken steps to limit the fees, many have not:

—In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback's office told The Wichita Eagle that it would have to pay $1,235 to obtain records of email and phone conversations between his office and a former chief of staff who is now a prominent statehouse lobbyist. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 11:46 AM

The New England First Amendment Coalition joined 54 civil rights and media organizations today to call for the reintroduction of the proposed federal Private Prison Information Act.

The legislation requires federal prisons managed by private contractors to disclose the same information under the Freedom of Information Act as publicly managed prisons. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced the legislation last year but it failed to garner enough support to become law.

In a letter to Lee, NEFAC and fellow supporters of the legislation called the lack of transparency within private federal prisons “indefensible” and requested she reintroduce the bill: Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 11:38 AM

A panel of experts assembled to offer advice on transparency issues is not subject to the state’s open meetings law. At least that’s the opinion of Ann Butterworth, who heads the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel.

She made the finding in response to an email activist Ken Jakes’ request for more information about a recent teleconference held by the 14-member Advisory Committee on Open Government.

“Is that not ironic that the very office that holds the responsibility of seeing that the citizens have access is involved in blocking access?” Jakes said. Continue>>>

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March 11, 2015 11:34 AM

Information regarding the routes of freight trains carrying petroleum belongs in the public record. The Feb. 24 editorial regarding recent derailments noted that neither railroad companies nor state regulators appear eager to release the details. Virginia officials disclosed the pertinent information only after receiving a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The situation underscores the importance of the FOIA. It also suggests that government in its various manifestations fails to embrace the principles the FOIA promotes.

If individuals and agencies truly embraced the FOIA, the press and private citizens would not need to file FOIA requests. Information that must be disclosed ought to be disclosed without going through a FOIA process with the potential to inconvenience all parties. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 11:31 AM

The Obama administration said Friday it will apply the legal provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to determine what parts of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s official emails when she was secretary of state will be released publicly from her private account. The law contains nine exemptions to censor or withhold parts of records.

The decision means that any finding by State Department reviewers that her private emails included classified or otherwise sensitive data would be indicated, even if the information is marked out. Under that law, reviewers need to specify which of the nine exceptions they’re citing to censor a passage.

Clinton’s extensive use of her own email account and private server has raised questions in the buildup to her expected presidential campaign about whether she adhered to the letter or spirit of accountability rules. Clinton has asked for the full ledger of her work-related correspondence to be made public, a process the State Department said could take months. The emails comprise 55,000 pages. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 11:29 AM

Until last summer, police in Connecticut had to provide information about arrests or prove why that information should not be public. But a state Supreme Court ruling in July turned that bedrock principle upside down.

The court basically gave police full power to withhold much detail about arrests until the case is closed, which could take years. The remedy, the court wrote, is legislative and up to the General Assembly.

The assembly's Joint Government Administration and Elections Committee smartly proposed a bill that would restore disclosure under criteria in the state's Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 10:57 AM

Top Virginia officials frequently rely on an alternative to one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged methods of secrecy: Rather than use private emails, governors, university presidents and others hide behind state law.

The former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential front-runner stepped into a thicket last week over her use of a private account to conduct official business. If she were the elected leader of Virginia or the top executive at one of the state’s public universities, it wouldn’t have mattered.

A gaping hole in Virginia’s open records law allows a wide range of public officials — including the governor, the attorney general, mayors and public university presidents — to withhold documents, including emails, under a so-called “working papers” exemption. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 10:50 AM

The types of transparency questions surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of personal email to conduct business while secretary of state have led in recent years to access fights in state capitals throughout the country.

Governors and other elected officials routinely use private emails, laptops and cellphones for government business, a popular strategy that sometimes helps them avoid public scrutiny of their actions.

Open-records fights over private emails have had varying results. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:51 PM

In August 2012, the conservative watchdog group Landmark Legal Foundation made a Freedom of Information Act request for records at the Environmental Protection Agency — specifically seeking records of any efforts to slow down the issue of new regulations until after the 2012 election.

FOIA requests are supposed to be acknowledged and complied with very promptly. In this case, EPA bureaucrats did precisely what the Freedom of Information Act is intended to prevent — they slow-walked Landmark's request past the 2012 elections, so that voters could not use the information to make their decision. They used one form of government opacity (foot-dragging) to protect another (a secretive regulatory process).

The incident raises an important question about government transparency in general. As the Roman poet Juvenal famously asked, "Who will guard the guards themselves?" Can bureaucrats be trusted when they are tasked with providing records of their own behavior? In this case, the answer is evidently no. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:47 PM

Hillary Clinton has said she wants the public to see 55,000 e-mails she turned over to the State Department that had been kept in her personal, unofficial e-mail account. But nobody should hold their breath waiting to see them. That’s because the State Department is legendary for taking forever to wade through and ultimately decide what documents can be released when.

That may be why – even after Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that agency officials would “undertake this task as rapidly as possible” – a State Department spokesman tamped down expectations, cautioning the process would be time-consuming given the volume of the record. That may also be why a senior State Department official told Reuters yesterday that “the review is likely to take several months given the sheer volume of the document set.”

And, the source might have added, given the State Department’s record. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:42 PM

It’s already been deemed the “Worst Bill of 2015,” and has united in opposition forces on the left, right and center who normally can’t agree on what color the sky is.

An editorial Wednesday morning in the Las Vegas Review-Journal described the bill:

Meet Senate Bill 28, which has its first hearing this afternoon before the Senate Government Affairs Committee. Brought on behalf of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities, SB28 attempts to make the release of public records so expensive that no one bothers asking for them. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:38 PM

Automatically deleting email after 90 days could lead to the accidental disposal of important records, the head of New York's Committee on Open Government told Capital, as the Cuomo administration presses ahead with its controversial new policy.

Robert Freeman, who has worked for the committee since it was founded in 1974, said there shouldn't be a fixed time governing when records are saved or discarded.

As Capital reported, the Cuomo administration last week fully implemented a policy of deleting any email not proactively saved for retention after 90 days. The result was a mass purge of messages in the inboxes of rank-and-file employees. Continue>>>

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