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

April 14, 2015 12:56 PM

The Department of Homeland Security has experienced a 182 percent increase in the number of requests it receives under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since President Obama first took office in 2009, according to the DHS 2014 Freedom of Information Act Report published Thursday.

The DHS says it received a record 291,242 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2014, spending about $51.5 million to process and fill them. It fully granted only 16,651 of these requests, or about 5.7 percent, partially granted another 128,603, and denied 6,212 requests, the report stated.

According to DHS, the vast majority of requests were directed to three agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – 143,794 requests; Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – 47,261 requests; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – 85,081 requests. Continue>>>


April 14, 2015 12:48 PM

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today filed an open government lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court against the Western Coventry Fire district alleging the district violated the Open Meetings Act by not timely filing meeting minutes.

The fire district posted the unofficial minutes for its Sept. 18 2014 meeting on Oct. 14 — five days after they should have posted them, the AG said in a release.

In June of 2014, the AG’s office found the district had failed to post minutes in a timely fashion seven times. At the time, officials from the district reportedly said they were unaware they were subjected to both the Open Meetings Act and the Access to Public Records ACt. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 12:22 PM

No one knows for sure whether Walter Scott was the third 2015 fatality from a police shooting or the 20th. And we should know.

But the United States has no database for police shootings, so we can’t find out .

If Mr. Scott’s shocking death is to spur a much-needed national conversation about policing, racial profiling and the use of deadly force, the big-picture number is a key piece of information. Continue>>>

April 14, 2015 12:11 PM

Legislation allowing local governments to charge fees for access to public records was pulled from debate this session for summer study designed to prepare a comprehensive open records bill.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, a Bedford County Republican who sponsored the measure, took the bill off notice recently after holding several meetings with interested groups such as Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and Tennessee Press Association.

"Open records are important to me, and I want to ensure that they are readily available," Tracy said in a statement. "There are bad actors on both sides of this issue, so I was glad to have all parties at the table trying to find language that would continue to allow records to be open and ensuring that they are available in a timely and proper manner." Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:52 PM

An improving economy and better resources in the developing world may not equal a more open nation, according to the World Justice Project (WJP) in its report on open governments globally.

The inaugural WJP Open Government Index, which ranks more than a 100 countries based on how open their governments are, found evidence which suggested there is no link between GDP per capita and open government.

It probably comes as no surprise that Nordic countries have the most open governments, but the UK fares well and is ranked eighth most open nation. Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:27 PM

If you use a cellphone and live in one of these 20 states, there’s a decent chance police have spied on you using a secretive mass surveillance tool called a stingray. But good luck finding out. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure about these devices, it’s that the federal government is fighting tooth and nail to stop you from ever learning anything about them.

Stingrays (also known as cell-site simulators, IMSI catchers and dirtboxes) are devices that identify and track cellphones en masse by acting like fake cell towers, fooling all nearby phones into connecting to them. Last year documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is requiring state and local police departments to sign nondisclosure agreements before obtaining the devices. But the details of those secret agreements were always completely redacted.

That is until earlier this week, when the ACLU released new stingray documents, including an agreement between the FBI and police in Erie County, New York. It confirms what privacy advocates have suspected: The federal government is intervening at the state and local level to hide information about stingrays at any cost — even when it means withholding evidence or dropping criminal cases. Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:17 PM

The Florida Constitution warms your heart with these bold and fervent statements right up front in Article I:

“Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf …”

“All meetings of any collegial public body of the executive branch of state government or of any collegial public body of a county, municipality, school district, or special district, at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business of such body is to be transacted or discussed, shall be open and noticed to the public …” Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:13 PM

Four bills that critics said would hamper public access to government information either failed or were substantially weakened Friday on a Nevada legislative deadline for committee action on measures.

Three measures, one seeking fees for more complicated records searches and two others proposing to close off prison and retirement system records, failed outright.

“Legislators have done a good job of listening to our concerns about vague language and sweeping changes in bills about Nevada’s open-government statutes, although there are still attempts to chip away at the information available to the public,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association. “The supporters of these bills often argue they’re trying to cut costs. But in the long run, it’s public scrutiny that saves money.” Continue>>>

April 13, 2015 1:06 PM

The Department of Justice last week published newly updated regulations on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, with several notable changes made in response to public comments.

Fifteen sets of comments were submitted by individual members of the public or public interest organizations after the Department released its draft FOIA regulations in 2011. In a lengthy Federal Register notice on April 3, the Department addressed all of the comments, and actually adopted a number of the changes recommended by public commenters.

Among the changes that were approved: Continue>>>

April 10, 2015 1:39 PM

Major changes to the Public Information Act reported on earlier have now passed both the House and Senate in essentially the same form.

HB755 passed the House Wednesday 139-1, and SB695 passed the Senate unanimously March 25.

“This is a big step forward,” said Del. Dan Morhaim, the floor leader and a long-time champion of open government and transparency measures. The legislation makes the Public Information Act more understandable, reasonable and fair, Morhaim said. Continue>>>

FOIA reform, HB755, Maryland
April 10, 2015 1:35 PM

The conservative group Citizens United filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding that the State Department turn over correspondence it hopes will help determine whether Hillary Clinton’s decisions as the nation’s top diplomat were swayed by a pair of wealthy donors to her family’s foundation.

Citizens United said in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that its public records requests for documents from the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act have gone unanswered for seven to 10 months.

“The only way to get results is to force bureaucrats into court,” David Bossie, Citizens United’s president and chairman, said in an interview. Continue>>>

April 10, 2015 1:32 PM

Cook County prosecutors are being sued to provide records of criminal cases that have involved the use of covert cellphone tracking systems — devices that have drawn the scrutiny of the U.S. Senate and privacy activists.

Freddy Martinez, a Chicago-area resident in the software industry, brought the lawsuit Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court, saying the state’s attorney’s office didn’t respond to his efforts to obtain the information through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Matthew Topic of the law firm Loevy & Loevy, follows a similar one Martinez brought against the Chicago Police Department. So far, the police have revealed to Martinez that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2005 on cell-site simulators made by the Harris Corp. in Florida. The devices, with names like StingRay and KingFish, capture cellphone signals. Continue>>>

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