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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October 26, 2011 5:30 PM

From delawareonline:

WILMINGTON -- An open government group has filed suit in federal court alleging the Delaware Court of Chancery is operating a "secret" court in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government alleges in the case filed Tuesday that a state law passed in 2009 -- which allows Chancery Court judges to arbitrate business disputes in a confidential forum -- amounts to a secret judicial proceeding in violation of the Constitution's First and 14th amendments. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware names as defendants the state, the Court of Chancery and individual judges.

eds. -- The Delaware Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. Ken Bunting, executive director of NFOIC, will speak at Freedom of Information in a Digital Age: The Current FOI Landscape on November 14 at the Goodstay Conference Center in Wilmington, Delaware. More information is available here.

October 26, 2011 5:16 PM

From ZDNet:

Google’s transparency report shows a general trend in rising requests by governments, law enforcement agencies and the courts, to takedown content that infringes rights or breaks the law.

[...]

But the search giant notes that the data is difficult to break down and to be made into a format for which users can understand and have simplified controls over the released data. Also, with a fragmented web after the Arab Spring uprisings earlier this year, it has led to many countries with poor human rights records losing Internet access for months at a time.

October 26, 2011 5:14 PM

October 26, 2011

From The Republic:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — State lawmakers said Tuesday that they didn't see any reason to immediately change the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act despite a judge's insistence that part of the law was unconstitutional.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox ruled earlier this month that the sunshine law was unclear on whether officials could send emails or have one-on-one conversations outside a public meeting without violating the law.

October 24, 2011 5:30 PM

From Enterprisenews.com:

BOSTON —  Government transparency advocates hope backroom casino talks and recent Beacon Hill scandals will lend new momentum to legislation that would toughen open meeting and public record laws this year.

Supporters especially hope to pass one of several bills to finally end the Legislature’s self-granted exemption from the state’s Open Meeting Law.

October 24, 2011 12:14 PM

From ProPublica:

A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don’t exist – even when they do.

Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what’s known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

Also see National Press Club urges Administration to reconsider draft rule on Freedom of Information.

October 21, 2011 1:07 PM

A few items selected from many of interest recently.

Federal court rules that petition signers’ names can be made public

COLUMBIA, Mo. (October 21, 2011) — The Washington Coalition for Open Government and freedom of information advocates everywhere are celebrating a major victory in a case supported by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Knight FOI Fund.

Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle granted the release of the names and addresses of Washington citizens who two years ago signed Referendum 71 petitions. The referendum was an attempt by Protect Marriage Washington to bring to a public vote the state’s newly-expanded domestic-partnership law that allowed same-sex couples the same health benefits provided to married, heterosexual couples. While the referendum passed, Washingtonians ultimately voted to keep the law intact.

When a gay-rights activist said he would reveal the names of the signers, Protect Marriage sued the state to block release of the names. Secretary of State Sam Reed was joined by the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG), a member of NFOIC, and Washington Families Standing Together in supporting the release of the records pursuant to the Washington Public Records Act.

 

See NFOIC's story for the rest.

Delaware's Gov. Markell calls for overhaul of state FOIA policies

Gov. Jack Markell signed an executive order [October 20] intended to simplify the process for Delaware citizens looking to access government documents through the Freedom of Information Act. ... The executive order will require all executive branch agencies to adopt a standard policy for requests in order to streamline the process and make it less costly to the requester.

Visit DoverPost.com for the rest.

Feds' social media use increases

Federal employees are increasingly turning to social media websites for work and personal use, particularly as more agencies lift restrictions on access, according to a new survey. The new Social Media in the Public Sector study, released Tuesday by Market Connections, found that just 19 percent of agencies ban access to some or all social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is down sharply from 2010, when 55 percent of agencies banned access.

Visit Nextgov for the rest.

The state of open data 2011

What is the state of the open data movement? Yesterday, during my opening keynote at the Open Government Data Camp (held this year in Warsaw, Poland) I sought to follow up on my talk from last year's conference. Here's my take of where we are today (I'll post/link to a video of the talk as soon as the Open Knowledge Foundation makes it available).

Visit David Eaves for the rest.

Voice of the Free Press: Committee on fence about open government

A swift decision by a legislative committee to reject a new exemption to the state's public-records law is an encouraging sign for open government in Vermont. More worrisome is the decision by the same lawmakers to continue looking at restricting access to how much of a break homeowners get in state property taxes. The underlying issue in both cases is how much information taxpayers can get about how their money is being spent. Without transparency, there's no way to find out who benefits from state policies.

Visit Burlington Free Press for the rest.

Arkansas Attorney General McDaniel confident of reversal in FOIA challenge

Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was confident Thursday during a visit to Mountain Home that the state's Supreme Court will reverse a circuit judge's ruling against the criminal, punitive provisions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Visit baxterbulletin.com for the rest.

October 20, 2011 1:29 PM

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

A federal court in Washington state lifted an order preventing the release of the identities of more than 137,000 people who signed a 2009 petition to challenge a Washington law that would extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Monday's ruling follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Doe v. Reed, in which the Court rejected the argument that allowing any disclosure of referendum petitions under the state public records act violated individuals' First Amendment rights, but sent the case back to the lower court to determine if such records should be released in this particular case.

First, the district court noted that the organization seeking to keep the names and addresses of the petition signers from being released, Protect Marriage Washington, would have to show "a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure [of personal information] will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties."

The court went on to explain that, traditionally, courts have never allowed parties to resist disclosure where “a group, organization, or political party . . . did not have minor status.” With respect to the Referendum 71 petition signers, the court found that they were unlike groups which have received such protection from disclosure in the past in part because of their minority status, such as the NAACP and the Socialist Worker Party.

Also, see this opinion from the News Tribune.

October 20, 2011 1:25 PM

From Politico:

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) asked a local paper not to publicize her town hall meeting out of concern that it would attract protesters, a new report says.

One of Herrera Beutler’s staffers contacted the Washington newspaper The Chronicle to invite them to cover a town hall meeting. However, the office requested that the newspaper not announce the details in advance of the town hall, according to another local newspaper, The Columbian.

October 20, 2011 1:22 PM

From The Republic:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A western Arkansas judge has refused a request from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to review a ruling against part of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, a move likely to send the case to the state Supreme Court.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox said in a brief letter Tuesday that he didn't see the need to temporarily halt the effect of his Oct. 4 ruling declaring that the criminal penalty of the state sunshine law was unconstitutional.

October 19, 2011 4:27 PM

From opensource.com:

Where do you start to standardize legislative information for all 50 United States? Blazing an open data trail for one state government isn't easy, so shifting 50 must be nearly impossible. Or is it? The Open State Project is making progress towards the impossible—and closing in on the goal.

[...]

James Turk is a developer and open source coordinator for Sunlight Labs. Using an open source approach, Turk is over halfway to completing the impossible—scraping and standardizing legislative information from all 50 states.. And the best part is that states are seeing the value in open data and making changes where they have an impact—directly at the source. Turk has a great story about how Open States is a key influencer for a more open government.

October 19, 2011 4:15 PM

October 19, 2011

From KUT News:

Open government advocates have been hounding the city for years over its not so easy to access reservoirs of public data – everything from public safety information to 3-1-1 calls to public transit usage. New data processing and visualization tools make examining the information easier, which can help to increase government transparency.

Austin was selected last week as a partner city with Code for America, a non-profit organization that connects developers with people who deliver city services. Code for America receives funding from the Knight Foundation and Microsoft among many others.

October 19, 2011 10:26 AM

October 19, 2011

From New York Post:

A lawsuit by a good-government group seeking the names and annual pensions of New York City Police Pension Fund retirees was quashed by a panel of three Appellate Division judges yesterday, setting up a battle in the state’s highest court.

“If allowed to stand, this decision will be a massive blow to open government and transparency in New York,” said Timothy Hoefer, director of the Albany-based Empire Center.

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