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 10, 2011 5:57 PM

From the Times-Virginian:

A lawsuit has been filed in Albemarle County that claims an Appomattox County deputy is to blame for the death of man who was shot by a Taser last year.

The lawsuit accuses Appomattox Deputy Denney Wright of shooting Daniel Russell with a Taser on Oct. 30, 2010, during a traffic stop.

November 10, 2011 1:22 PM

From PCMAG.com:

Before you tweet an inside joke about a terrorist movie like "United 93" or "Munich," you should know—the CIA might start following you.

CIA employees known as "vengeful librarians" monitor Facebook and Twitter feeds, TV news channels and radio stations, Internet forums and chat rooms, and pretty much any form of media that's open to the public, according to the Associated Press, which received an exclusive tour of the nondescript brick building in Virginia where all this takes place.

November 9, 2011 4:21 PM

Opinion from Sunshine Review:

As pension issues become increasingly prevalent in the news, it is no surprise that the latest lawsuit over the release of individual pension data in Oregon is getting national attention. Last week, seven unnamed Oregon retirees filed suit in Marion County Circuit Court seeking an injunction blocking the November 21, 2011 release of names and the monthly benefits of 110,000 retirees.

Since 2002, numerous FOIA requests made by local newspapers, The Oregonian and The Statesman-Journal, were repeatedly denied by the Oregon Public Employees Retirement system who claimed that the information was exempt from release under the state’s public records law, except in cases of more prominent retirees. Nonetheless, the persistence of the two newspapers ultimately led to an undisclosed legal settlement reached in September in which PERS agreed to release the information to the public in November.

Outraged, the retirees hired Portland lawyer Greg Hartman to represent the group fighting the settlement agreement. Primarily, PERS representatives and the retirees’ legal counsel relayed concerns that the release of the numbers will increase the retirees’ vulnerability to identity theft as well as represent an invasion of privacy. Ultimately, the courts will make the next move, but it is worth considering if there is such a thing as too much transparency.

November 9, 2011 3:43 PM

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to adopt a procedural rule proposed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press intended to limit the number of civil cases it puts under seal, citing a recently adopted Judicial Conference policy that encourages federal judges to limit the number of cases they seal from public view.

In the wake of a marked increase in the number of sealed civil cases that went before the Court in recent years, the Reporters Committee asked the Court in September to consider adopting a rule that would set standards for limiting public access to the records of the cases going before the high court.

William Suter, Clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, said in a Nov. 4 letter to the Reporters Committee that the Supreme Court would rely on lower courts to follow the guidelines suggested by the Judicial Conference, rather than adopting its own rules for evaluating the sealing of cases that go before the high court.

“The Court considered your submission and decided not to add a provision to the Supreme Court Rules concerning sealing documents. The Judicial Conference recently adopted a policy that should reduce the number of documents sealed in lower courts. This will, in turn, reduce the number of sealed documents submitted to this Court,” Suter's letter said.

Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish characterized the decision as neither a victory nor a defeat.

November 8, 2011 2:04 PM

From MarylandReporter.com:

Instead of a service that was once free, Maryland citizens and businesses will now have to pay a $190 annual subscription fee to the Secretary of State’s office if they wish to access the most timely government information published by the Maryland Register, a bi-weekly, state-run regulations publication.

Updates to current and proposed state regulations, hearing notices, executive and legal opinions, and more, were available online to the public every other Friday for free, and had been for years. Now, due to procedure changes at the Register, those who can’t or won’t subscribe will have to wait about five extra days to view information that had been available in real-time for years.

November 7, 2011 6:17 PM

From the Injury Board Blog Network:

A government health agency has revoked the public’s access to a database of healthcare practitioner’s malpractice and other negative history, even though its records are anonymous, due to the pressure of one physician after a reporter figured out which record was his and published a story about him.

Established in 1986, the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is a database of healthcare practitioner’s malpractice payments, disciplinary actions and other negative history for use by hospitals, medical boards and insurers. From 1990 until September 1 of this year, there was also a Public Use File (PUF) of the database with healthcare practitioner names and identifying information omitted. According to The New York Times, the PUF of the database has “provided valuable information for many years to researchers and reporters investigating oversight of doctors, trends in disciplinary actions and malpractice awards. “

November 7, 2011 1:49 PM

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled ... that the public has a right of access to the names of state pension benefit recipients as well as the amounts they receive. The court decided that the public interest in releasing the information outweighed any privacy interests of the individuals named within the records.

The court’s ruling affirms a lower court's order last year to the New Hampshire Retirement System to disclose the same records.

In February 2010, a reporter for The Union Leader made a request to the agency under the state’s Right-to-Know Law for a list of state retirement system members who received the 500 highest annual annuity payments in 2009, as well as the amounts paid to them.

When the agency refused to release the names, offering instead to provide a list of the amounts paid, the newspaper sued.

November 4, 2011 5:44 PM

A few items selected from many of interest recently.

Justice Department drops non-disclosure proposal for FOIA requests

The United States Justice Department announced, yesterday, that it was dropping a proposed controversial rule that would allow it to deny the existence of sensitive documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Visit NPR for the rest.

Justice Department denies FOIA request for Awlaki assassination memo

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by POGO, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) "neither confirms nor denies the existence of the" OLC memo that describes the legal justification for its killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. government alleges that Awlaki was a "regional commander" with al Qaeda.

Visit Project on Government Oversight for the rest.

Websites proliferate to generate FOI requests

These names reflect six new websites that allow requesters to draft and file freedom of information requests online. Plus, they they track the requests and archive the answers.

Visit freedominfo.org for the rest.

November 4, 2011 5:13 PM

Judicial Watch, an organization that monitors government corruption, has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review a lower court ruling that allows the Federal Reserve to keep secret documents related to the 2008 bailout of Bear Stearns. At issue is whether or not the federal government can keep the documents from public scrutiny without specifically stating how the release of the documents would harm government agency decision-making.  

Judicial Watch said, “By removing the requirement that a government agency must make a specific showing of harm under…exemption 5, the D.C. Circuit has created a sweeping exemption, causing the Freedom of Information Act to become more of a withholding statute than a disclosure statute.”

Kenneth F. Bunting
Executive Director, NFOIC

November 3, 2011 2:19 PM

From ACLU:

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice (DOJ) today withdrew a proposed regulation that would allow government agencies to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests with false denials that the documents sought actually exist, when, in fact, they do. Providing such false denials has apparently been a practice at DOJ for decades, which was most recently revealed in a FOIA lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

The ACLU Washington Legislative Office and members of Congress across the ideological spectrum including Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mark Udall (D-CO), and Representative Lamar Smith (R-IL) in particular, along with OpenTheGovernment.org, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and other open government groups, helped pressure DOJ to withdraw this regulation.

See the comment of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the Justice Department’s decision, and a Department of Justice letter to Sen. Grassley (R-IA).

More from Wired, TalkingPointsMemo, Main Justice, and Fox News.

November 3, 2011 11:58 AM

From Texas Watchdog:

Texas state and local government websites have garnered only a B minus grade in a nationwide rating of the transparency value of the information government agencies post online.

The B minus comes from Sunshine Review, a nonprofit that advocates for open government.

[...]

The government entities' sites were ranked against a checklist of items, including how well they offered citizens information about budgets, meetings, lobbying, audits, contracts, public records and taxes.

November 3, 2011 11:55 AM

From arkansasbusiness.com:

Little Rock attorney Sam Perroni is taking on the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission for failing to hand over documents related to an investigation of Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox.

Perroni sued the Commission and its executive director, David Stewart, under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act for failing to release the names of the people who were on the “investigative panel” that found no “evidence of judicial misconduct, wrong-doing, or incapacity within the Commission’s jurisdiction” in connection with Fox, according to Perroni’s suit.

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