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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March 20, 2017 12:47 AM

Getting access to a city of Rochester police report, property record or purchasing data is now a matter of point and click, thanks to a new online process that Mayor Lovely Warren announced Thursday.

An estimated 3,850 open records or Freedom of Information Law requests will come into the city this fiscal year — that's at least one for every hour of business, of every working day. Much of that is pushed through via email messages, file folders and marker pens.

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March 20, 2017 12:44 AM

Thirty-two area public agencies were among 357 across the state issued citations last year for not fully complying with Ohio’s public records laws, according to the state auditor’s office.

Some had up to four citations, including the Springfield Academy of Excellence, which was shut down by the state in 2015 for other issues. Other entities with more than one citation include the Butler County Agricultural Society and village of Harveysburg.

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March 17, 2017 1:10 AM

From the press release:

U.S. Senator Jon Tester is shining more light on the federal government by increasing transparency of public records.

Tester introduced the Public Online Information Act, which will make all public records from the Executive Branch permanently available on the Internet in a searchable database at no cost to constituents.

Tester's bill, which covers all documents generated, updated, or released after the bill's enactment, would also establish an independent, bipartisan watchdog to issue guidelines for making public information accessible online.

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March 17, 2017 1:06 AM

When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966, it was envisioned as a tool for journalists to facilitate government oversight and accountability. Although the FOIA is still generally thought of in this way, inextricably linked to the news media’s role as government watchdog, this view bears little resemblance to the reality of how FOIA is used today.

Nowadays, journalists account for only a small share of FOIA requests (just 7.6% by the estimate below). Since it was enacted, the FOIA’s user base has evolved to encompass a diverse ecosystem of organizations, entities, and individuals who use FOIA for a wide variety of reasons. Its users include lawyers, nonprofits, academic researchers, hospitals, political committees, hedge funds, government agencies, private individuals, and many others.

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March 15, 2017 10:49 PM

In “Forecasting Freedom of Information,” the work of University of Arizona associate professor of journalism David Cuillier, a survey of 300 people–journalists, advocates, record custodians, technology companies, scholars and freedom of information experts–revealed lengthy delays, ignored requests, excessive fees and, in many cases, an unwillingness to consider producing government records because of outmoded technology.

Find the full report here

March 15, 2017 10:47 PM

The Obama administration in its final year in office spent a record $36.2 million on legal costs defending its refusal to turn over federal records under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an Associated Press analysis of new U.S. data that also showed poor performance in other categories measuring transparency in government.

For a second consecutive year, the Obama administration set a record for times federal employees told citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn't find a single page of files that were requested.

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March 15, 2017 10:41 PM

Over the past two months, Sunlight has been quietly tracking whether open government data has been removed from the Internet under the Trump administration, responding to widespread fears of its removal.

[Sunlight Foundation] joined the Transparency Caucus in Congress this winter to talk about bipartisan efforts to restore public trust and the importance of preserving open government data. 

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March 14, 2017 3:43 PM

When Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and members of the state’s House of Representatives recently demanded that records relating to one of the biggest and most publicized loan investigations in the state be made public, it was an early Sunshine Week gift for the public and especially for advocates of open government.

The 38 Studios case had been in the news for close to seven years and was costing taxpayers $75 million in loan payments. However, open government advocates railed against the continued closure of the investigation into the case, and apparently both the governor and state legislators were listening, which isn’t always the case.

The House recently passed a bill that would make all records, including grand jury documents, open to the public. The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill. Members of the House said the bill “sends a message to the public that no one is trying to hide anything.” About the same time, Gov. Raimondo announced that she plans to ask the court to release all documents gathered during the investigation.

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March 14, 2017 3:39 PM

Emails of public officials are open for inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act, depending on their content. Such messages can reveal important insights into how government decisions are made, but using CORA to obtain emails can be a frustrating and sometimes futile exercise because records-retention policies tend to be vague and discretionary.

The Sheridan clerk’s response to Houston’s records request highlights an all-too-common scenario: Emails can vanish with the click of a mouse, and the cost to recover them can be prohibitively expensive in some government jurisdictions, especially smaller ones with modest budgets for information technology.

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March 14, 2017 3:26 PM

On Thursday, March 16, join those in the know as they share short takes on FOIA, access, transparency and more. We'll also show the 2006 PBS profile of Virginia FOIA hero Lee Albright -- always a classic -- then we'll dim the lights and bring out the snacks to watch last year's best picture Oscar winner about investigative journalism, "Spotlight."

The event is free, but you must register and a donation to VCOG is strongly encouraged.

Event information can be found here.

March 13, 2017 10:34 PM

Exceptions to government transparency are growing in Minnesota as lobbyists for local officials, law enforcement and businesses gain exemptions under the state's public records law.

The number of secrecy provisions in Minnesota's public records law has risen to at least 660, the Star Tribune reported Sunday in a story kicking off Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information.

As examples, the newspaper noted residents are not allowed to see complete disaster plans for a derailment of train cars loaded with highly flammable oil that roll through Minnesota every day. The state also keeps secret which companies have received $72 million in tax subsidies.

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March 13, 2017 10:32 PM

The Post and Courier routinely uses the S.C. Freedom of Information Act to unearth crucial documentation for the benefit of all sorts of South Carolinians. The law is a principal method for holding the powerful accountable and shining a light on happenings that would otherwise remain in darkness.

The practice has recently exposed corruption, profligate spending, government dysfunction and a broad information-gathering practice by police. But the FOIA also promotes transparency in more than just government, politics and the criminal justice system. Anyone in the Palmetto State — not just the news media — can use it to unveil happenings in business, sports and the food world.

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