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 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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April 28, 2015 12:20 PM

This afternoon, Charity Murphy, the Executive Director of the Clark County Park District decided to use Facebook as a means to intimidate Freedom of Information Act requesters into submission through “peer pressure”.

This is a direct assault on citizens of this State with the full force and resources of a government body.

The Park District recently received FOIA requests for information related to seasonal and annual campground spots, and for the financial transaction report for those campsites among other things. She decided to take her frustrations out on Facebook, during normal operating hours of the Park, claiming that the park attorney told her to do so. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:15 PM

That's easy for him to say — easy for House Republicans to hear — because they were in the room.

The other 19 million people of Florida were locked out. It's their money, their lives, their environment and their schools that are affected by what the Legislature does. It's just none of their business.

Trust is automatic in the lockstep ranks of Republican legislators, who hardly needed reassurance. But public trust is something you'd think politicians would want to cultivate. Public officials privately discussing public business at public expense in public buildings on public time is not a way to make the public trust them. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:12 PM

The Illinois House on Friday passed HB 3932, legislation that would require private campus police to release the same information as municipal police.

The bill — introduced in February by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) and co-sponsored by state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) — passed unanimously.

The bill was inspired by community concerns about the University of Chicago Police Department’s (UCPD) practices, according to Currie, who told the Herald last month that the university State’s Attorney’s office were weighing in on the bill. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:07 PM

When it comes to providing information to the public, 14 out of 21 U.S. government agencies receive poor marks for responding to records requests, according to a study published online Friday by researchers at Syracuse University.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at SU asked for copies of the electronic files the federal agencies use to keep track of requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

But after sending identical requests Jan. 22 and Jan. 23 to the 21 federal agencies, only seven have fully complied by making public usable data, the TRAC report said Friday. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:06 PM

At a public meeting in Oakland, California, early in 2014, an analyst with the city's Public Ethics Commission proposed the idea of building an app that would help residents understand who actually puts money into campaigns at the local level.

Five months later, after hundreds of hours of research and development, the city's tech-savvy civic advocacy group, OpenOakland, launched an app called Open Disclosure, which makes obscure and complex campaign finance data intelligible to average citizens. Their process is described in greater depth in Government Technology's article, "Oakland App Sheds Light on Campaign Finance."

Oakland's Open Disclosure is one of many user-friendly applications being developed across the country that transform individuals' ability to meaningfully participate in government. Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:30 AM

In an era where the government collects more information than ever before, the importance of maintaining public access to that information becomes a bigger concern with each passing year.

That point isn’t lost on U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. Serving as a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee — in her freshman term, it should be noted — she has paid particular attention to the Freedom of Information Act, the venerable 50-year-old law that requires the public disclosure of records held by the federal government.

Hirono last year co-sponsored the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which would require federal agencies to make FOIA records available for inspection in an electronic format, limit agencies’ ability to charge fees if they foot drag on FOIA requests and establish a legal presumption in favor of disclosure, among other things. Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:26 AM

In another sign of the increased attention being paid to the Rialto Square Theatre, the organization’s Freedom of Information Act officer has resigned because she does not have time to keep up with the demand for documents.

We are getting hit with FOIAs almost every day,” Rialto board member Vicki Murphy said at a meeting Wednesday. “It’s to the point where it’s overwhelming for the entire staff.”

Murphy, who also served as the FOIA officer until Wednesday, said two Rialto staff members are working as many as 35 hours a week dealing with public requests for information. Continue>>>
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