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 http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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April 30, 2015 11:49 AM

An open-government group and the state press association are asking a court to overturn legal agreements that have repaid taxpayers millions of dollars from a long-running scandal because the State Investment Council failed to comply with the Open Meetings Act.

An attorney for the New Mexico Press Association and the Foundation for Open Government argues that the settlements with investment advisers, consultants and money managers were negotiated and approved by a portion of the full State Investment Council, called the Litigation Committee.

“A major purpose of this strategy was to avoid compliance with the Open Meetings Act by the SIC,” writes Daniel Yohalem, a Santa Fe attorney, who drafted the brief for the public watchdog groups. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:29 AM

The State Department has about three weeks to propose a date by which it will release tens of thousands of work-related emails former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent or received on her personal account, a federal judge said in an order issued Tuesday.

Clinton's former agency has pledged to use Freedom of Information Act procedures to process for release about 55,000 pages of emails the former secretary turned over in December after a State Department official asked four former secretaries to return copies of any official records they had. Clinton has since declared her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination

State officials have said the email review process would take several months, except for one batch of Benghazi- and Libya-related messages slated to be released sooner. However, State has so far declined to promise any specific date or even month for release of the smaller or larger batch of emails. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:24 AM

Multiple whistleblowers in the US Marshals Service have informed Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s office that leadership is allegedly using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to retaliate against them for seeking to report systemic abuses of power.

In a letter to the Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates of the Justice Department, Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote, that “many whistleblowers” have now “come forward in the last month” to provide information suggesting the Assets Forfeiture Division of the US Marshals Service suffers from nepotism. For example, assistant director, Kimberly Beal, allegedly hired a family member as an intern and approved numerous cross-country trips for that family member, which are supposed to be for criminal investigators.

One whistleblower told Grassley this sort of thing is just a part of “day-to-day business” at the US Marshals Service. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:17 AM

There are several instances where the inaction of the Attorney General’s office leads to the public being improperly denied public records. This is simply another case we decided to highlight today – more are coming:

Last summer Cook County decided it could violate the law and deny access to public records. I filed a request for review with the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor, and it was assigned file number 2014 PAC 30503.

This deals with Statements of Economic Interest, their online access, and their access thru FOIA. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:11 AM

Statewide court records maintained by the Supreme Court of Virginia should be publicly available in compiled form, according to an opinion issued by the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

The Supreme Court's Office of the Executive Secretary refused to release compiled court records to the Daily Press and instead required case-by-case requests. The Daily Press has been pushing for access to the entire database for nearly a year, arguing that the information is a public record with critical information about how well and fairly the state's courts work.

After being denied the data repeatedly, the Daily Press worked with the Hampton Roads chapter of Code For America — a nonprofit group that works with governments to make their records more accessible to the public — to compile 110,000 individual cases over a one-year span using the Office of the Executive Secretary's website. Using this database, the newspaper found that black Virginians appear to be less likely than whites to negotiate reduced charges in plea bargains, and are more likely to face stiffer penalties when they violate probation. Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:31 AM

Despite an outcry from members of the public, Dewey Beach Town Council increased the cost of documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 4-1 vote came during council’s April 11 meeting. The cost to make copies is now 25 cents per page, up from 10 cents. Commissioner Anna Legates was the lone no vote.

Dewey Mayor Diane Hanson said the increase was necessary to help offset the costs associated with processing FOIA requests. The town has limited staff, and the volume of requests lowers employee morale, said the mayor. Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:28 AM

President Barack Obama routinely promises to provide greater transparency within the federal government. Now, Congress is making strides toward achieving this critical goal.

The House of Representatives and Senate are considering nearly identical bills to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which provides the general public, including journalists, with access to federal government records.

This legislation has received broad support across media organizations, including the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of which the Newspaper Association of America is a member. And here’s why: Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:24 AM

You’d think that if you were going to get a timely and adequate response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the federal government, it would be from the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, which oversees the government’s compliance with FOIA requests.

But if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

According to the FOIA Project, operated by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the Office of Information Policy was one of 10 agencies that failed to adequately respond to a basic FOIA request, a remarkable failure rate -- that’s nearly half of the 21 agencies queried. Only seven of the agencies fully complied in a timely manner. Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:20 AM

Last month on this page, state Attorney General Brad Schimel called for updating the state's open government laws to meet the challenges of the digital age. He's exactly right. The laws were enacted long before the Internet came into being, let alone Facebook and Twitter, and they need to be updated — and strengthened to make sure that citizens in the digital age have the access to government that they need.

As Schimel noted in his column, "the laws do not provide guidance to identify the limits of open government. As such, what is a proper determination under the open government laws ends up being decided through litigation in our courts. The laws leave well-intentioned officials with no help in answering difficult open government questions."

That's not much help to citizens. Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:14 AM

The Obama administration on Saturday unveiled a 6-year-old report examining a once-secret program to collect information on Americans’ calls and e-mails, as debate gears up over the coming expiration of a Bush-era surveillance law.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the redacted report following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the New York Times. The basics of the National Security Agency program had already been declassified, but the lengthy report includes some new details.

President George W. Bush authorized the “President’s Surveillance Program” as part of the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The review was completed in July 2009. It found that while many senior intelligence officials believe the program filled a gap by increasing access to international communications, others including FBI agents, CIA analysts and managers “had difficulty evaluating the precise contribution of the PSP to counterterrorism efforts.” Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:10 AM

The ongoing assault by Ohio Republican lawmakers on public records laws and those who fight for citizen access to records shows no signs of slowing down.

House Republicans tried to use the state's two-year budget this month to shield themselves and state officials from new citizen-initiated records audits being conducted by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican who refreshingly doesn't follow the party line 100 percent of the time.

Thankfully, the language has been removed, although some are suggesting it could be restored as the budget process evolves or in another bill. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:24 PM

The secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted, a newly declassified document shows.

The document is a lengthy report on a once secret N.S.A. program code-named Stellarwind. The report was a joint project in 2009 by inspectors general for five intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and it was withheld from the public at the time, although a short, unclassified versionwas made public. The government released a redacted version of the full report to The New York Times on Friday evening in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush secretly told the N.S.A. that it could wiretap Americans’ international phone calls and collect bulk data about their phone calls and emails without obeying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over time, Stellarwind’s legal basis evolved, and pieces of it emerged into public view, starting with an article in The Times about warrantless wiretapping in 2005.The report amounts to a detailed history of the program. While significant parts remain classified, it includes some new information. For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002. Continue>>>
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