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 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.

November 2, 2011 4:17 PM

From Unredacted:

On October 28 the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley (R. Iowa), penned a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder opposing the Justice Department’s proposal to lie to requesters about the existence of documents in a new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulation.

The Senator’s letter demanded that Holder defend the Justice Department’s proposal to create section 16.6 (f)(2) – that would “change existing FOIA regulations to allow agencies responding to a FOIA request to state that no records exist” when agencies determine that the requested documents fit certain existing exclusions — in writing no later than November 7.

November 1, 2011 12:57 PM

From The Mountain Press:

Williamson County, TN -- An effort that could shut the public out of some small gatherings of government officials seems to be making little headway, with no local officials aware of the push and none willing to say definitively they would support it.

The proposal, reportedly being backed by Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell who is president of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association, would allow up to half of an elected body to meet without inviting citizens in. The move is just another effort to weaken the state's 37-year-old "Sunshine Law," says Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Frank Gibson.

November 1, 2011 12:53 PM

November 1, 2011

From Burlington Free Press:

South Burlington has released traffic stop documents related to former police Cpl. Jack O'Connor to one individual but withheld the same documents from the public, claiming at one point that they are not public records at all.

Secretary of State Jim Condos said the city seemed to want to "have it both ways" by releasing the documents to one individual under a confidentiality agreement while simultaneously denying another request for the record. Maria Archangelo, president of the Vermont Press Association, described the city's position on the records as "confusing." Allen Gilbert, director of American Civil Liberties Union Vermont, called it "frightening."

October 31, 2011 1:28 PM

A few items selected from many of interest recently (updated Monday).

Obama Justice Department Battles Against FOIA

The Obama administration wants to make it tougher for Americans to obtain government records by offering agencies more opportunities to deny Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

  The Department of Justice has proposed 15 rule changes to the FOIA, which collectively represent a “huge step back for transparency,” says the Sunlight Foundation.

Visit Govinthelab.com for the rest.

Voting Information Project

The Voting Information Project (VIP) offers cutting edge technology tools to provide voters with access to customized election information to help them navigate the voting process and cast an informed vote. VIP works with election officials across the nation to ensure this information is official and reliable.

  VIP uses an open format to make data available and accessible, bringing 21st century technology to our elections and ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to cast an informed vote.

Visit Votinginfoproject.org for the rest.

Illinois FOIA/OMA Mandatory Training

A new law passed in Illinois requires that all of those elected and appointed members of a public body who are such members of a public body on January 1, 2012, to take electronic FOIA/OMA training by January 1, 2013. All of those who are elected or appointed after January 1, 2012, have 90-days to complete the training.

Visit Illinois Municipal League for the rest.

Making the Open Government Partnership Work

In this special in-depth report, Matt Rosenberg (founder and editor of Public Data Ferret) looks at what it will take for the efforts of the recently formed global Open Government Partnership to succeed, taking in initiatives from across the globe and addressing their context-specific challenges and potentials.

Visit Open Knowledge Foundation Blog for the rest.

Tribune Reporters Discuss Use of FOI in Fugitive Story

To identify local fugitives, Chicago Tribune reporters created a database that drew on multiple sources of federal and local records, as well as scores of interviews with law enforcement officials, relatives of suspects and victims, and witnesses to the crimes.

Visit Chicago Tribune for the rest.

October 27, 2011 9:16 AM

From UNREDACTED:

Almost two-thirds of Americans approve of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Nearly half approve of the USA PATRIOT Act. Fortunately, some of its laws' flaws are receiving some much needed attention on its 10th birthday.

The Patriot Act, which was enacted 45 days after September 11 attacks, was designed to give intelligence agencies more power to collect information in cases dealing with national security.

Signed into law by George W. Bush ... in 2001, it has received mixed reviews from civil rights advocates and constitutionalists alike. Nonetheless, this May Obama signed a four year extension for three controversial provisions of the Act--roving wire taps, searches of business records, and conducting surveillance of individuals suspected of terrorist activities but who are not associated with any known organizations.

Visit the National Security Archive for more information and an interesting graphic from the ACLU.

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