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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September 30, 2014 10:30 AM

An open government advocate said Thursday he is filing suit in King County asking a judge to declare a series of secret meetings between the port commissions of Tacoma and Seattle illegal.

Arthur West, an Olympia resident who has made a career of challenging government secrecy, said he believes commission members have wrongly held private meetings to discuss how the two ports can improve their competitive stance in the maritime business.

The two port commissions have held eight meetings, including one Wednesday at Sea-Tac Airport, from which the public was barred, in an attempt to reach agreement on new strategies to attract more shipping business to Puget Sound. Continue>>>
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September 30, 2014 10:29 AM

President Obama made some commendable speeches at the United Nations last week, but his self-serving remarks to a panel on open government wonít win any plaudits from supporters of an independent news media. They were an astonishing example of saying one thing while doing just the opposite.

Mr. Obama has presided over an administration with an appalling record on First Amendment issues, particularly when it comes to government snooping and national security. Despite paying lip service to the idea of open government, he seems as determined as ever to keep the news media and the public in the dark on matters that deserve scrutiny and debate, including the latest bombing campaign in the Middle East.

He's drawn the ire of virtually every free-press organization in this country because of his actions. Yet, he dared tell the Open Government Partnership: ìHere in the United States, we've been trying to lead by example.î That deserves a full-on Pants on Fire rating! Continue>>>
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September 30, 2014 10:28 AM

Who are you going to call? A county commissioner refuses to let you speak at a public meeting. Who are you going to call?

A local sheriff refuses to give you access to public records. Who are you going to call?

The city is willing to give you the public records you requested, but it wants to charge you an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege. Who are you going to call?

In Florida, you call the Florida First Amendment Foundation. Just a single letter from the Florida First Amendment Foundation to a wayward politician can yield results. For example: Continue>>>
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September 30, 2014 10:26 AM

Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees' salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Missouri's attorney general on Monday, after the AP first disclosed the practice, contacted Ferguson's city attorney to ask for more information regarding fees related to document requests, the attorney general's spokeswoman said.

The move to charge high fees discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. And it follows dozens of records requests to Ferguson under the state's Sunshine Law, which can offer an unvarnished look into government activity. Continue>>>
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September 26, 2014 11:12 AM

A privacy activist is suing the Chicago Police Department after officials denied his Freedom of Information Act request seeking departmental records regarding cell phone data collection.

Southwest Side resident Freddy Martinez filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court. The suit claims the police department “has willfully and intentionally violated FOIA by refusing to produce records that would show the full extent to which it has secretly used 'IMSI catcher' or 'stingray' equipment.”

The pieces of equipment 'masquerade' as cell phone towers to secretly obtain data from nearby cell phone users, according to a statement from Martinez's attorneys. Continue>>>
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September 26, 2014 11:09 AM

When asked whether he would support broadening Michigan's Freedom of Information Act laws to include his office and the Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder told the Free Press: "As governor, it's good to have people you can talk to ... when you're coming up with brainstorming ideas or thought processes, talking about difficult issues."

Yes, we're sure that's true. And if you're the manager of a private enterprise, it's a valid rationale for keeping your business private. But elected officials should have no such presumption of privacy. Public records are just that ó public. FOIA laws allow reasonable exemptions, for pending litigation or to protect private information. But a blanket exemption for two branches of government, most specifically the two branches that control every cent of the state budget, is just ridiculous.

Yet, that's how Michigan rolls: The Legislature and the governor's office aren't required to comply with FOIA laws, unlike governors and legislatures in most of the rest of the country. Local elected officials are also covered by FOIA laws, and it's ridiculous to suggest that the governor of Michigan engages in negotiations more complex and sensitive than, say, the mayor of Detroit ó whose records are available to the public under FOIA. Continue>>>
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September 26, 2014 8:16 AM

Though a lawsuit prompted the disclosure of dozens more records on grizzly bear preservation efforts, it is hard to prove intentional government stonewalling, a federal magistrate ruled.

Today there are between 1,400 and 1,700 grizzly bears on 2 percent of their historic range, down from the roughly 50,000 grizzlies that roamed the lower 48 states in the 1800s. Only an estimated 400 to 600 grizzlies remain in the Greater Yellowstone Habitat.

Grizzly bears are currently listed as "threatened," a label that environmentalists still contest . Chicago-based grizzly bear activist Robert Aland had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records about efforts by the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Continue>>>
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September 26, 2014 8:13 AM

Miami-Dade County will work with three Code for America app developers to solve civic problems, the county announced Tuesday. The developers will create apps to help the county's Regulatory and Economic Services department make more data available to residents and streamline its services.

The county was one of seven governments chosen from 40 applicants. The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invested $75,000 to help the program launch in Miami.

ìForging strong partnerships between entrepreneurs, technology innovators and government can make a major impact in Miami,î said Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami. 'It will both enhance the county government's ability to connect with residents and open new paths for people to shape the future of our city as a place where ideas are built.' Continue>>>
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September 26, 2014 8:11 AM

The Knight Foundation will split its journalism and media innovation division into two separate teams, adding a vice president for journalism, the nonprofit announced Wednesday.

Under the new structure, the media innovation division will administer programs such as the Knight News Challenge and the Knight Prototype Fund, John Bracken, vice president of the new media innovation division, said in a phone interview. The journalism division will focus on leading transformational change in newsrooms. The two divisions will divvy up the current combined grantmaking budget, though the specific breakdown hasn't been determined yet. This budget varies from year to year depending on a variety of factors including the performance of the stock market.

Knight announced a slew of promotions in concert with the reorganization. Bracken was formerly director of media innovation. Former media innovation associate Chris Barr is now director of media and innovation. Former Associated Press deputy managing editor Shazna Nessa joins the foundation as director of journalism. And Marie Gilot, formerly a journalism program associate, is now a program officer for journalism. Continue>>>
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September 26, 2014 8:10 AM

A state judge has invoked a federal court doctrine to reject a request under New York's Freedom of Information Law for information about police surveillance of a New York City mosque.

Finding no guidance from higher courts in New York, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alexander Hunter Jr. ruled that New York City Police Department may invoke the "Glomar doctrine" exception under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to deny an Islamic group's request under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The Glomar doctrine allows federal agencies, citing law enforcement or national security concerns, to refuse to confirm or deny that the information sought under a FOIA application exists. Continue>>>

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September 25, 2014 10:31 AM

The FBI requires state and local police to keep quiet about the capabilities of a controversial type of surveillance gear that allows law enforcement to eavesdrop on cellphone calls and track individual people based on the signals emitted by their mobile devices, according to a bureau document released recently under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The December 2012 document is a heavily redacted letter between the FBI and police in Tacoma, Wash., as the local department sought to acquire an IMSI catcher, sometimes described as a 'fake cellphone tower' because it tricks individual phones into routing their calls and other data through the surveillance equipment. The Tacoma police were buying gear produced by Harris Corp., a Florida-based company that makes the StingRay and other IMSI catchers used by law enforcement agencies across the country.

The FBI letter, which was not classified but was designated as "law enforcement sensitive," told the Tacoma police chief that the Federal Communications Commission authorizes the sale of such surveillance equipment to state and local police departments on the condition that they first sign an FBI ìnon-disclosure agreement. Continue>>>
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September 25, 2014 10:30 AM

People have asked me why Iíve been campaigning for eight months for the freedom of Peter Greste and the first answer is the obvious one: he's a friend, and not only that, a friend whose work and character I greatly respect.

But thinking a little more deeply, Iíve realised that Peter's case also touched a deep chord in me. In 1994, I was the ABC's Europe correspondent.

Africa wasn't part of my beat, but I was sent to cover the refugee crisis after the Rwandan massacres because I was, as they say, the nearest warm body. And that's what you do in journalism, particularly as a foreign correspondent: when the call comes, you answer. Continue>>>
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