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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November 22, 2011 6:09 PM

From WSAV-TV:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's office deletes some emails, which might violate the state's public records law.

While [Jay Bender, an attorney and expert on the Freedom of Information Act] says it's not clear whether the letter of the law is being broken, he thinks deleting emails between the governor's staff goes against the spirit of the law.

November 21, 2011 5:45 PM

From National Lawyers Guild:

Washington, D.C. — The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) and the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests Wednesday with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Park Service (NPS). The requests ask that the agencies release all information on the planning of the coordinated law enforcement crackdown on Occupy protest encampments that played out in multiple cities over the course of recent days and weeks.

Each FOIA request states: “This request specifically encompasses disclosure of any documents or information pertaining to federal coordination of, or advice or consultation regarding, the police response to the Occupy movement, protests or encampments.”

November 21, 2011 2:23 PM

From MarylandReporter.com:

The Maryland Register, a state news publication that provides updates on state regulations, legal opinions and hearings, has reversed a decision to charge consumers for its real-time, online news. The policy reversal came after two articles and a legislative inquiry highlighted a new annual fee for consumers to view information the same day it was published.

“Yes, the Register is once again available online on the day it’s published for non-paying consumers,” wrote Register Editor Gail Klakring in an email to MarylandReporter.com. “We realized that any change to the availability of Maryland Register has had an unintended impact on the transparency of Government and that was never the intent.”

November 21, 2011 2:20 PM

From the Pocono Record:

Lawmakers want state-related institutions to fall under Pennsylvania's Right To Know Law following the Penn State University child sexual abuse scandal.

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, said he would introduce legislation making state-related institutions — the four independently controlled universities that receive some state funding — subject to public access rules.

November 21, 2011 2:18 PM

From The Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Having already served their sentences, hundreds of Virginia sex offenders are held behind bars for months — some for years — while waiting to see whether they'll be sent to a psychiatric center indefinitely, an Associated Press review has found.

Judges acting on the requests of both prosecutors and defense attorneys routinely shrug off the legal deadline for making that decision, leaving the inmates in limbo well beyond their designated punishment and without access to the very kind of treatment the state says they may need.

November 21, 2011 2:15 PM

From the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government:

The New Mexico Court of Appeals reinforced state open-meetings law yesterday with an opinion that should put all public bodies on notice -- failure to comply with the Open Meetings Act can have serious consequences. Officials can't expect to just hold a “do-over” meeting and escape scot-free. The Court's opinion dovetails with FOG's argument, made in a friend-of-the-court brief by attorney Greg Williams.

The case arose from the firing of former Rio Rancho city manager James Palenick. City officials met in late 2006 via rolling quorum, outside of any public meeting, and decided to fire Palenick; they then voted on the decision in an insufficiently-noticed public meeting. In late 2007, the city received notice from the Attorney General's Office that their rolling quorum and subsequent action had violated the Open Meetings Act ... so they "ratified" Palenick's firing in a proper public meeting. Palenick sued for back pay between the two meetings. The city argued that its second action had retroactively cured any mistake and wiped the slate clean. (The city has also maintained that it did not violate the Act, an issue which was not before the Court of Appeals.)

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC -- eds.

November 21, 2011 1:04 PM

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Kudos are due to AP National Writer Martha Mendoza and the team of reporters and correspondents who helped piece together what may be the most comprehensive report ever on freedom of information laws around the world.

Across the globe, there are more people living in countries where citizens supposedly have access rights to government information than do not. But what people are entitled to see under freedom of information laws and what they can easily gain access to are two different realities, the AP report showed.

The level of transparency on paper is great. But because governments do not always follow their own laws, citizens encounter roadblocks, obstacles and outright denials that are not easily reconciled with that promise of transparency in statutes.

The AP team asked about terror-related arrests and detentions, and some related information, in 105 countries and the European Union. In three out of 10 countries, their requests, for information that should have been available, were completely ignored. Only 14 of the countries provided all the information requested within the legally prescribed deadlines.

The groundbreaking and eye-opening report is particularly relevant at a time that President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton are spearheading and promoting the so-called Open Government Partnership, encouraging all governments more open and accountable to their people.

If you wonder about the example the U.S. sets for emerging democracies around the world, you might be disappointed. Many emerging democracies were more responsive, and compliant with FOI laws, than the U.S. was.

"The promise is magnificent—more than 5.3 billion ordinary citizens have the right, on paper, to find out what their government is doing behind closed door," AP's well-written, well-packaged report begins.

For what is believed to the first time in its 150-year history, the AP is allowing the full report, including video, interactive maps and sidebars, to be shared with anyone through the Internet and Facebook links.

That too is a class move, befitting the spirit of openness, and a fine package of journalism. The AP and its journalists should feel proud.

Access the content from https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150914656220651.

Kenneth F. Bunting
Executive director, NFOIC

November 18, 2011 12:41 PM

A few recent items selected from many of interest that we might not have drawn attention to earlier:

DNC sends massive FOIA request for Romney's email records

Washington, D.C.—In a FOIA request sent Thursday evening to Mark Reilly, Chief Legal Counsel of the Executive Office of the Governor, the DNC asked for records pertaining to communications between Romney and his staff about their decision to wipe their electronic records clean before leaving Massachusetts statehouse. For good measure, the DNC also asked for "any and all electronic correspondence" that Romney and anyone in his administration (not just the members who erased their emails) made while in office that contain the following terms:

Visit The Huffington Post for the rest.

Open government leaders support funding for key transparency initiatives

OMB Watch and the Sunlight Foundation today released an open letter to the U.S. Senate supporting continued funding for the Electronic Government Fund's important transparency projects. The letter echoes the Obama administration's policy statement issued Nov. 10.

Visit OMB Watch for the rest.

Judge: FBI must pay penalty to Calif. Muslims

SANTA ANA, Calif.—The FBI must pay the legal fees of Muslim activist groups that sued the federal agency for access to its files, according to a U.S. District Court ruling filed Thursday. Judge Cormac Carney made clear that the financial sanction was not based on the merits of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California's Freedom of Information Act case, but it was to punish a government that chose to lie to its own judicial system.

Visit boston.com for the rest.

COLUMN: Thalidomide lawyer files FOIA suit

A lawyer for 15 U.S. plaintiffs who claim they suffered birth defects because their mothers took the morning-sickness drug Thalidomide sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for FOIA violations. The nine-page complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, asserts that the Food and Drug Administration (part of HHS) has improperly failed to turn over documents the lawyer, Kay Reeves of Gordon & Reeves, began requesting more than a year ago.

Visit Reuters for the rest.

Opinion: This is why open record laws matter

The challenge ... is to find ways to explain why open records laws matter – and why we get so riled up when federal or state governments take steps to restrict them. So what does any of this have to do with the disturbing chain of events that led to the arrest earlier this month of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the firing of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno?

Visit Nashua Telegraph for the rest.

University of Missouri to limit lecture recording

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — From videotaped lectures to podcasts, universities are rushing to embrace the digital revolution. Yet even as some schools invite the public to view course material online, they're starting to grapple with how to keep classroom discussions out of the wrong hands.

Visit Google News for the rest.

35,000 access-to-information requests to go online in Canada

Treasury Board president Tony Clement trumpeted Wednesday the Conservatives’ commitment to “open government” with changes on how people can access federal data as well as browse summaries of all access-to-information requests online.

Visit canada.com for the rest.

Opinion: Perry doesn’t practice what he preaches

Jay Root of the Texas Tribune reported: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s state office has temporarily stopped deleting e-mails every seven days — as its official document-retention policy allows — thanks to the efforts of a Wisconsin-based political activist who thinks they should be preserved longer. Government-transparency advocate John Washburn has devised a computer program to automatically spit out requests, twice a week, for all of the e-mails generated by the governor’s office. That has had the impact of halting the routine destruction of the records, because the law says files can’t be destroyed if somebody asks for them under the Texas Public Information Act.”

Visit Washington Post Opinions for the rest.

November 18, 2011 11:48 AM

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

Washington, D.C. — Sunshine Week 2012, March 11-17, will encourage access to government information, urging both the public and public officials to “Put More Sunshine in Government.”

This year, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is co-sponsoring the project with the American Society of News Editors, which launched the nationwide initiative in 2005 with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Sunshine Week is a non-partisan, non-profit national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants have included news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofit organizations, schools and individuals concerned about the public's right to know.

The eighth annual Sunshine Week will again recognize “Local Heroes,” individuals who have fought for transparency or used government information to improve their communities. To view the stories of past winners and make nominations for 2012, go to the Sunshine Week website, www.sunshineweek.org.

“The free flow of information is critical to a democracy and to the public’s understanding of how government really works,” said Ken Paulson, ASNE president and CEO of the First Amendment Center. “Sunshine Week drives home the need for both press and public to fight for open government.”

“We’ve been strong supporters of Sunshine Week since the initiative began, and we look forward to working closely with ASNE, the partner organizations and individual participants across the country,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “The Reporters Committee has a long commitment to government transparency. Sunshine Week is a great way to expand our efforts to promote access to information.”

November 17, 2011 10:46 AM

From The Associated Press:

The promise is magnificent: More than 5.3 billion people in more than 100 countries now have the right - on paper - to know the truth about what their government is doing behind closed doors. Such laws have spread rapidly over the past decade, and when they work, they present a powerful way to engage citizens and expose corruption.

However, more than half the countries with such laws do not follow them, The Associated Press found in the first worldwide test of this promised freedom of information.

Readers are invited to read more stories and submit suggestions for future freedom of information requests in any country from the AP Facebook post at http://apne.ws/vgMTQ6

In the spirit of transparency, AP is also opening its notebooks, sharing raw data, spreadsheets and methodology. View all of these source documents here.

November 16, 2011 5:47 PM

From Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW):

Washington, D.C. – Today Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and a broad coalition of organizations called for the Supreme Court to allow the live telecast of the unusual 5½ hours of oral arguments in the cases surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Allowing cameras in the courtroom would provide every American the opportunity to hear and assess the arguments in real time. In the alternative, Americans will be forced to rely only on after-the-fact news reports, or wait for the Court to release audio recordings afterwards.

[...]

Joining CREW in signing the letter are: American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Society of News Editors, Arizona Newspapers Association, Inc., Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Association of Research Libraries, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREDO action, Defending Dissent Foundation , Ellen Smith, Legal Publication Services, Erwin Chemerinsky, Feminists for Free Expression, Government Accountability Project, Health Care for America NOW, isolon.org, Liberty Coalition, National Freedom of Information Coalition, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project on Government Oversight, Society of Professional Journalists, Suffolk Media Law, The Woodbury Fund, Washington Coalition for Open Government, William A Wise Law Library, and the University of Colorado School of Law.

November 16, 2011 4:32 PM

From Politico:

A Muslim group's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding the text of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's main investigative manual has suffered a setback as a result of a judge's ruling last week.

Muslim Advocates is seeking access to the FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, a 689-page tome that sets the rules FBI agents are required to follow when pursuing investigations and dictates when internal approvals are required for using specific tactics, such as surveillance.

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