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 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
October 1, 2014 11:14 AM

Tim Berners-Lee claims our internet freedom in under threat by governments and corporations that don't have the public's interest at heart and has called for a bill of rights to be introduced to ensure users' privacy.

He said these organisations are tempted to abuse the open internet and this issue has come to light after former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked information suggesting the government was snooping on US citizens.

Berners-Lee said at the Web We Want festival: "If a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites they go to, then they have tremendous control over your life. Continue>>>

October 1, 2014 11:13 AM

The State Department has taken more than two years to turn over documents WND sought through a Freedom of Information Act request regarding mysterious transactions at an expensive European luxury hotel funded by U.S. taxpayers.

Despite President Obama's continued proclamations and executive orders heralding a new era of open government, the State Department only partly satisfied this FOIA request. WND received mostly redacted, unreadable and even German-language documents.

What State did disclose ñ whether inadvertently or intentionally ñ was a partial list of consular officials and department staff, mostly from U.S. embassies in Africa, who enjoyed lavish champagne breakfasts and other comforts at the super-luxurious Hotel Hessischer Hof in Frankfurt, Germany. Continue>>>

October 1, 2014 11:11 AM

An unprecedented number of individuals and organizations are finding ways to explore, interpret and use Open Data. Public agencies are hosting Open Data events such as meetups, hackathons and data dives. The potential of these initiatives is great, including support for economic development (McKinsey, 2013), anti-corruption (European Public Sector Information Platform, 2014) and accountability (Open Government Partnership, 2012). But is Open Data's full potential being realized?

A news item from Computer Weekly casts doubt. A recent report notes that, in the United Kingdom, poor data quality is hindering the government's Open Data program. The report goes on to explain that ñ in an effort to make the public sector more transparent and accountable ñ UK public bodies have been publishing spending records every month since November 2010. The authors of the report, who conducted an analysis of 50 spending-related data releases by the Cabinet Office since May 2010, found that that the data was of such poor quality that using it would require advanced computer skills.

Far from being a one-off problem, research suggests that this issue is ubiquitous and endemic. Some estimates indicate that as much as 80 percent of the time and cost of an analytics project is attributable to the need to clean up 'dirty data' (Dasu and Johnson, 2003). Continue>>>

open data, UK
October 1, 2014 11:10 AM

Soon you'll be able to find out where the federal government flies drones and what it does with the data according to a report fromThe Washington Post.The White House is getting ready to send out an order to make agencies open up data on where they fly drones and what happens to all of the data they collect.

Right now, only the government is actually allowed to fly drones legally. Commercial drone use is banned by the FAA, although it gave out several permits to movie and television production companies to let them use drones, and gave unique permission to a company in Texas to let it use drones in a search and rescue mission.

The new executive order would specifically tell federal agencies to open up data on its drone fleets that it has kept secret for years. Although the new rules would cover all federal agencies, the Department of Defense, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security have the largest fleets and would be most affected by the disclosure rules. The draft of the rules has gone out to be reviewed by the agencies. Once the process is complete, President Obama will sign the order and it will go into effect. Drone training missions by the Pentagon and border surveillance would all be revealed thanks to the new program. On the other hand, the rule would only apply to U.S. airspace, so any flights done for military and intelligence work overseas would not be affected. Continue>>>

September 30, 2014 10:32 AM

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed on Saturday a group of bills aimed at promoting transparency in governance and greater disclosure in political campaigns, saying existing laws on those matters are enough.

AB194 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, would prohibit local legislative bodies such as school boards and city councils from blocking public comments that criticize government policies or staff. The governor said the bill would add certain procedures to the Ralph M. Brown Act of 1953, which requires local government bodies to meet in public and give adequate notice, such as prescribing how time should be allotted to each speaker.

He said the added procedures "at best will elongate but in no way enhance the quality of debate at the local level," and that California has longstanding laws in place that promote transparent government and guarantee public decision making. Continue>>>

September 30, 2014 10:31 AM

Government transparency has been the focus of many news stories as of late. In this modern age of sophisticated technology, social media platforms and watchdog reporters, it is now easier than ever to keep up with the inner workings of government.

Transparency is the key to having an administration that is supported and trusted by the people it serves. At its core, transparency is important because it holds government accountable for its actions. But accountability only works if citizens are on the other side taking a look at the information provided and responding.

In April, the Indiana Transparency Portal hosted by my office was ranked No. 1 in the nation by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. This website is dedicated solely to sharing data with the public. Government employees' salaries, state agency expenditures and detailed budget information are all readily available. Last week, I held a press conference highlighting the addition of Indiana's $13 billion in fixed assets to the ITP. Continue>>>

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