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

October 3, 2014 11:16 AM

Complying with the 1966 Freedom of Information Act these days is a hugely complex technological feat that goes far beyond filing cabinets, good judgment and black markers.

One trick to organizing and handling mind-boggling numbers of documents is keeping in mind the requesters' needs, according to experts looking to make this government service more effective.

Last year, federal agencies received a total of 704,394 FOIA requests, with more than 230,000 going to the Department of Homeland Security alone. Continue>>>

October 3, 2014 11:15 AM

Gov. Christie and his administration have pulled plenty of shameless stunts to protect Christie's image. Few though, have been as blatant as the decision earlier this year to delete public information about town-by-town property-tax rebates and net property-tax growth from the state Department of Community Affairs website.

The goal was to try to prevent meaningful comparisons of the full impact of tax policies between Christie and his gubernatorial predecessor, Jon Corzine.

Democratic legislators are fighting to restore that information to the site and make it readily available to the public. This week, the Assembly approved a bill to mandate just that. But expect most Republicans to do Christie's bidding by continuing to oppose public access after the inevitable veto comes. GOP legislators have yet to show the courage to override the governor on anything. Continue>>>

October 3, 2014 11:13 AM

he organization that represents registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario has issued a formal request to the provincial government for information related to medical tourism.

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) is seeking all general records between 2009 to the present regarding the treatment of international patients (also known as medical tourists) not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) in the province's hospitals. The request includes all letters, reports, briefings, agreements, hand-written notes, electronic documents and emails from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Treasury Board, Finance, Cabinet Office and the Office of the Premier.

"Hospitals that are part of Toronto's University Health Network, and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre have made no secret that they are open for business when it comes to treating patients from abroad for a fee," says RNAO's Chief Executive Officer Doris Grinspun, adding that the CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital is also pursuing a partnership with Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit to formalize a 'medical free-trade zone' that he says will become the 'envy of the health-care world.' Continue>>>

October 3, 2014 10:07 AM

It isn't uncommon for conflicts to arise between the news media and law enforcement agencies over the release of information.

Police are protective of their investigations and worry about showing too much of their hand. News reporters are hard-core advocates of the public's right to know and question anything that stands in the way of gathering information freely. As standoffish as the two groups can sometimes be, there's also a reliance on each other. There are times one can benefit from the other.

That's why there's always been an arm's-length but symbiotic relationship between the two. Every now and then there has to be a little saber-rattling from one side or the other, but both groups are fully aware the law is already set that determines what information must be made publicly available. Continue>>>

October 2, 2014 1:01 PM

A group of government transparency advocates delivered a letter to the White House Monday calling on the Obama administration to do away with its policy of reviewing Freedom of Information Act requests determined by the executive to contain "White House equities." The policy has "caused significant confusion and delay among agencies in their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act."

In 2009, the Obama White House handed down an edict requiring agencies to present all FOIA requests, including 'documents and records, whether in oral, paper, or electronic form, that relate to communications to and from the White House, including preparations for such communications,' to the executive branch for review.

According to transparency advocates, the requirement creates confusion as federal agencies attempt to comply with FOIA requests because it was put into place without any official statute, rule making or other guidance. Furthermore, the group argues that the 2009 memo interferes with congressional oversight and contradicts FOIA's intended purpose of allowing public access to government records. Continue>>>

October 2, 2014 1:00 PM

So how much of your dollars are being spent on providing free college educations for state workers? We don't know ó and that should outrage you. We know that in past budgets the state has spent $5 million on the program known as Upward Mobility.

But if you take a careful look at this year's state budget you'll find that the program has been 'zeroed out' meaning that it appears the state is no longer spending a dime on the program. But appearances can be deceptive, especially when it comes to Illinois state government.

A quick look at the department of Central Management Services website shows that the program is plugging right along ñ same as always. A call to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which operates the program with the state and you'll learn money is apparently pouring in this year. But how much of our money is being spent? State officials aren't saying. Continue>>>

October 2, 2014 12:59 PM

At first glance, it was just like many other emails sent by area residents. The writer, a constituent of South Logan County, expressed his frustration with the regulatory actions of a large state agency. While I understood the writer's frustration and his valid description of a legitimate abuse, I was excited to realize that his email contained a validation of one of the most important transparency tools, a tool that allowed this South Logan County resident to demonstrate an error by a large state agency.

Starting in 2009, we placed videos of each House session online for all to see. When we implemented this transparency concept, I envisioned that citizens would watch the proceedings as they happened. However, I failed to realize the full potential of the service. The most important part of this reform isn't that the content is broadcast in the first place; it's valuable because it's accessible for everyone to see for years to come. The video content has been indexed to allow viewers to retrieve very specific footage without the need to scroll through other items.

In 2013, a state representative sponsored a bill to lift restrictive, costly government regulations on those who sell home produced items. Specifically, the representative explained how the bill would allow home-based food producers to sell their products at farmersí markets. Continue>>>

October 2, 2014 12:57 PM

After delivering his address at the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting last week, President Obama dropped a tidbit of interest for open data advocates: he promised to produce an open source policy by the end of 2015.

Speaking before the three-year-old Open Government Partnership, Obama promised to expand the second Open Government National Action Plan, which was unveiled by the administration in December.

New measures will promote open education, expand the governmentís digital services, improve fiscal transparency and protect privacy in response to the growth of big data technologies. Continue>>>

October 2, 2014 12:56 PM

We discussed open government in the Ethan Allen Room of the Vermont State House during the recent Digital Economy Summit (Sept. 23). His statue stood there, arm raised for recognition to speak of timeless Vermont.

I felt lonely as a grass-roots Vermonter among so many public officials and authorities contemplating their status quo. Open government is a nationwide concern and movement that we did not discuss. Is Vermont that different?

While the proverbial six degrees of separation may be just two in the green, mountainous state, knowing whom to ask may not help. We were fortunate to be joined by a local newspaper editor, accustomed to trying to open government, who observed that there is nothing digital about this. Continue>>>

October 2, 2014 12:55 PM

Coverage of natural disasters and health care as well as the making of a T-shirt took top honors Saturday night at the 2014 Online Journalism Awards, which ended the Online News Association Conference.

At the 14th annual awards dinner, ONA also announced a new award for 2015, the James Foley Award, honoring work by reporters in conflict zones and named for the Global Post freelancer killed in Syria in August.

The Seattle Times and Calgary Herald dominated the Breaking News categories with respective coverage of a local landslide and floods in Alberta. The two newest OJA categories, the $7,500 University of Florida Awards in Investigative Data Journalism, were won by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's examination of screening programs for newborns with rare diseases and MPR News for the cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Continue>>>

October 1, 2014 11:16 AM

On a Friday night in early August, Prof. Corey Robin put out a call on his blog. There had been plenty of grumbling over the University of Illinois's decision to revoke a job offer to Prof. Steven G. Salaita, who gained notoriety for incendiary tweets about Israel. But it had not been enough to persuade the university to reinstate Professor Salaita. So Professor Robin, a political theorist at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College, ratcheted up the pressure.

He suggested that scholars in every field begin organizing public statements refusing to accept any invitations to speak on any campus of the University of Illinois, a serious disruption of academic business.

ìNobody's gonna do this,î Mr. Robin remembers telling his wife. But, to his surprise, they did. Philosophers, citing, took up the challenge. The boycotts snowballed. English professors. Political scientists. Anthropologists. All signed on, and Mr. Robin blogged each fresh step. By his last count, more than 5,000 scholars had joined boycotts. Continue>>>

October 1, 2014 11:15 AM

U.S. intelligence agents have broad authority to spy on U.S. companies as long as they are 'believed to have some relationship with foreign organizations or persons' - a description that could conceivably apply to any company with foreign shareholders, subsidiaries, or even employees - according to newly released government documents published this morning by the ACLU.

The trove, which includes documents from the NSA, Department of Justice, and Defense Intelligence Agency, confirms long-standing suspicions that the bulk of U.S. foreign surveillance operations are governed not by acts of Congress, but by a 33-year-old executive order issued unilaterally by President Ronald Reagan.

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, and they detail the extent of the order ó which is extraordinarily broad and until recently largely obscure ó and which underpins expansive U.S. surveillance programs, like siphoning internet traffic from Google and Yahoo's overseas data centers, recording every call in the Bahamas, and gathering billions of records on cellphone locations around the world. Continue>>>

NSA, Ronald Reagan, spying
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