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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February 13, 2015 1:23 PM

More than a month ago, the Democrat and Chronicle filed what seemed like a simple records request with the city of Rochester. The newspaper asked for records of ticket sales, concessions and team contracts (read: leases) that would spell out revenue sharing and use terms for Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial.

We had written about these matters before, and getting the records never had been an issue. There were reports on how the Amerks, in the years before being sold, had begun giving away tickets to prop up falling attendance – ultimately giving away 50,000 more tickets than they sold during the losing 2007-08 season. During lease negotiations, we detailed how concessions revenue is divided as the teams argued for more.

The city budget annually reports the city's cut in aggregate. Getting the detail behind those numbers is important, particularly given that the city-owned facility relied on $1.7 million in hotel/motel and property tax subsidies this year. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 1:20 PM

Carolina Public Press is pleased to announce that it is working to launch a regional open government, data and records project called Open WNC.

The project is made possible in part through a recent $10,000 OpenGov grant to Carolina Public Press from the Sunlight Foundation, which supports “open-source projects and tools [that] are opening up data and government information in innovative ways.” The project was one of eight efforts across the country to recently earn funding from the foundation.

Carolina Public Press, at www.carolinapublicpress.org, is a nonprofit online news service providing Western North Carolina with unbiased, in-depth and investigative reporting as well as educational opportunities to journalists, students and others. CPP’s Open WNC effort will, likewise, improve access to public data in under-served communities throughout the 18 westernmost counties of North Carolina by developing institutional partnerships, creating a government data repository and training journalists and engaged members of the public on understanding public records and open government issues. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 1:14 PM

Four senators have filed papers with a federal appeals court urging judges to force the government to divulge more about the rules it follows when it makes U.S. citizens the target of anti-terror drone strikes.

The filing Wednesday with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan supported arguments made in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The FOIA lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times. It has already forced the release of a heavily redacted 41-page memo. But other memos are sought. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 12:54 PM

Bureaucratic stonewalling erects barriers to the public’s right to know. It also undermines our system of checks and balances and weakens the public’s trust in our institutions of government.

Let’s remember the genesis of our republic. The government works for the people, not the other way around. Foot-dragging subverts transparency and creates a credibility gap.

On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum that said “information maintained by the federal government is a national asset.” Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 11:11 AM

A new law that was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in January will ensure local governments cannot charge excessive fees for requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The bill, which was introduced by Michigan Sen. Mike Shirkey, limits the per-page amount a municipality or other public body can charge for documents requested under the act, or FOIA, to 10 cents.

It also adds provisions on how and when labor costs can be charged. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 11:07 AM

The Freedom of Information Act, first enacted in 1966, allows the public to see how their government functions — and fails to function — by providing access to official records. In fiscal year 2013, government agencies released some or all of the information sought in 440,997 requests.

But too often, information that should be released isn't because agencies invoke of one of nine exemptions spelled out in the law, ranging from from protections for personal privacy to considerations of national security. Critics have focused especially on the overuse of an exemption for “inter-agency or intra-agency” documents that has come to be known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. For example, the CIA invoked that exemption to deny a request for release of a 30-year-old internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015. Like a similar bill in the House, it would require that agencies operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of information and would limit the exemption for so-called deliberative letters and memos — written by policymakers during the decision-making process — to those less than 25 years old. Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:39 PM

Three Southern California civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday against two federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection, claiming they are wrongly withholding information that should be publicly available.

They are requesting information about a Border Patrol practice known as roving patrols, in which agents conduct searches of people and vehicles away from the border and away from checkpoints in the country’s interior.

The suing organizations are the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the University of California Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:33 PM

Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs (FRAYR'-ikz) waited four days last month for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to declare that he should keep a taxpayer-funded report about sexual harassment allegations against his predecessor under wraps.

The Associated Press and other news organizations had been waiting 10 months for the same decision.

Madigan's office says the attorney general does not play favorites and blames the delay on a backlog.

A spokeswoman says that when Frerichs inquired, the office's public access counselor realized an opinion had been written "for some time" but not distributed. Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:30 PM

A bipartisan group of senators filed a brief late last night in federal appeals court in support of the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times’ lawsuits seeking Justice Department legal memos on U.S. targeted killing operations.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) wrote in their friend-of-the-court brief that they supported the Freedom of Information Act lawsuits because they believe the government should not be creating a body of “secret law” concerning the extrajudicial killing of American citizens.

The senators wrote that they are “deeply concerned that the Executive Branch’s excessive secrecy is frustrating the purposes of FOIA and impeding a healthy debate on an issue of paramount importance: when the Government may use drone strikes to kill one of its own citizens without charge or trial.” Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:02 PM

When Maryland adopted its public information policy 45 years ago, email hadn't been invented yet, commercial laser printers were being refined for the market and the ink on the federal Freedom of Information Act was barely dry.

On Tuesday open government advocates began their push to update the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970.

"Democracy is built on transparency," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, who is sponsoring the bill. "We've got a good law but it hasn't been updated in four decades." Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 1:56 PM

A civil liberties group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service, demanding more information about a controversial surveillance tactic involving airplanes that fly over urban areas in order to sweep up cell phone signals.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit, filed in Washington, claims that the group demanded documents about the plane program under freedom-of-information laws last November, but that the federal government has so far failed to turn them over as required.

The plane program in question came to light last after the Wall Street Journal revealed how the Justice Department straps small devices known as “dirtboxes” to Cessna planes in order to lock on to cell signals. The devices, which measure two feet square, are reportedly capable of recording location, phone data and even conversations. Continue>>>

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February 12, 2015 1:50 PM

On Tuesday, Jeb Bush, “in the spirit of transparency,” released a mass of emails sent to him during his time as Florida governor.

Many of the emails are the stuff of public record, and “would have surfaced anyway due to sunshine laws and nosy journalists,” as The Christian Science Monitor put it.

Indeed, most of Mr. Bush’s emails came with a disclaimer: “Most written communications to or from state officials regarding state business are public records available to the public and media upon request. Your e-mail communications may therefore be subject to public disclosure.” Continue>>>
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