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

November 21, 2014 5:19 PM

Although the Homeland Security Department pledged three years ago to steadily reduce backlogged Freedom of Information Act requests, the number has risen even higher, congressional investigators said.

DHS made some progress by the end of fiscal 2012 to reduce the backlog, but the numbers have risen to more than 50,000 in fiscal 2013, an increase of more than 9,000 since 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office report (pdf) released Nov. 19.

Overall, the department and its component agencies reported processing more than 200,000 FOIA requests in 2013, more than any other federal agency. It also had the most backlogged requests, more than half the total 95,000 backlogged requests across the federal government. Continue>>>


November 21, 2014 4:50 PM

Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP's bid for documents from the government's probe into alleged foreign bribery by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will likely be trumped by a powerful exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, but experts say the suit ramps up pressure on the retailer to be more transparent with shareholders.

The firm accused the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a lawsuit of violating FOIA by withholding documents Wal-Mart gave the commission related to an alleged bribery scheme connected with the retailer's growth in Mexico.

In refusing Robbins Geller's original request in May 2013, the SEC invoked FOIA Exemption 7(A), stating that the provision “protects from disclosure records compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement activities.” Continue>>>

November 21, 2014 4:38 PM

The Illinois House has voted to override Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of legislation that allows governments to charge higher fees for large public records requests.

Legislators voted 77-36 on Wednesday to override the veto. It now goes to the Illinois Senate, where it will require a three-fifths vote to override.

The Legislature approved the measure during the spring session. Quinn vetoed it, saying it would reduce transparency. Continue>>>

November 21, 2014 11:22 AM

The ACLU is filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today for information about a newly revealed Marshals Service program that uses aircraft to suck up location data from tens of thousands of people’s cell phones at a time.

The U.S. Marshals Service program, exposed last week by the Wall Street Journal, involves Cessna planes equipped with “cell site simulators” flying from at least five airports around the country. Cell site simulators, also called IMSI catchers, impersonate a wireless service provider’s cell tower, prompting cell phones and other wireless devices to communicate with them instead of the nearest tower. In doing do so, the simulators can learn all sorts of information that facilitates accurate location tracking, including the electronic serial numbers and other information about the phone and the direction and strength of the phone’s signal.

The government apparently calls cell site simulators deployed on airplanes “DRT boxes” or “dirtboxes”, after their manufacturer, Digital Receiver Technology, Inc. (DRT). (Other cell site simulator models, produced by Harris Corporation, are the “Stingray," “Triggerfish,” “Kingfish,” and “Hailstorm”). Continue>>>

November 21, 2014 10:52 AM

A useful filter for evaluating a public policy idea is to ask whether the idea serves the interests of the public or serves the interests of government.

House Bill 4001 is a good example of a policy that serves the interests of the public while facing opposition from government agencies.

The bill revises Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, a good-government law that requires public agencies to disclose government records upon request. The law was adopted in the post-Watergate era and it allows taxpayers, public policy advocates and the media to evaluate the decisions and actions of public employees. Continue>>>


November 21, 2014 10:47 AM

So this “lame duck” Congress may not be so lame after all – at least when it comes to increasing government transparency.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider a bipartisan measure that, while modest, would be one of the most significant improvements to the Freedom of Information Act in decades. Sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Texas Republican John Cornyn, we’re hopeful the committee will send the bill to the full Senate where it has a legitimate chance at passage, even in the politically fraught aftermath of this month's election.

The legislation would take several small but important steps to improve FOIA. Continue>>>

November 20, 2014 11:02 AM

In our continued fight for greater openness and transparency in government, we found the following items worthy of comment.

A public debate

Hampton Councilman Donnie Tuck deserves citizens' thanks for raising questions about the city's participation in a data-sharing program operated by area law enforcement.

Last year, several Hampton Roads communities entered into an agreement by which local police agencies agree to share telephone data collected from criminal suspects. Since it came to light, the public has expressed concern by the absence of details about of this domestic surveillance operation. Continue>>>

November 20, 2014 10:59 AM

For much of her career in government service, Miriam Nisbet has been on the cutting edge of the intersection of digital technology and the Freedom of Information Act.

But more than 35 years after she began government service in 1978, Nisbet will leave her post as the government's top FOIA ombudsman at the end of November to take a break and pursue a career in the private sector.

Nisbet has spent the last five years as the director of National Archives and Records Administration's office of government information services. Continue>>>


November 20, 2014 10:55 AM

The Senate Judiciary Committee released an amended version of a bill that would overhaul the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and force government agencies to be more transparent.

The legislation, which has bipartisan support and is backed by open government advocates, is co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senator John Cornyn, the ranking Republican on the committee.

The bill, dubbed the "FOIA Improvement Act of 2014," along with a "manager's amendment" (a bill that contains individual amendments from a majority or minority sponsor of a piece of legislation) unveiled today will be voted on Thursday. It will still need to pass the House, which has indicated it supports the legislation, before it is sent to President Barack Obama and signed into law. Continue>>>

November 20, 2014 10:51 AM

Ever since Illinois rewrote and bolstered its Freedom of Information Act in 2010, government officials of all stripes have done their best to chip away at it. Such is the case with a bill vetoed this year by Gov. Pat Quinn.

As lawmakers gather in Springfield this week for the annual fall veto session, Better Government Association President Andy Shaw says this is one veto that should be left alone.

Shaw writes: Continue>>>

November 20, 2014 10:47 AM

Launched in 2009, was one of the Obama administration's flagship efforts to produce a more open government. But though the site is full of raw data, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker suggests it's not nearly as useful as it could be. was supposed to hold heaps of data created by the federal government as it goes about its day-to-day business, boosting government transparency. And it's worked in some cases. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data stored on the site has given birth to scores of weather apps and countless meteorologists' careers, for example.

But in a visit to the D.C. start-up hub 1776 on Monday, Pritzker said that one of the surprises of becoming secretary of commerce last year was finding that the department didn't have all that much to show for the great heaps of data it had shoveled onto the site. Continue>>>

November 20, 2014 10:43 AM

The Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government today named Topeka media law attorney Michael L. Merriam as recipient of the Coalition’s “Above and Beyond Award” for Merriam’s career-long contributions to promoting and defending open government.

The award will be presented at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the auditorium on the first floor of the Statehouse.

Ron Keefover, Coalition president, said the Sunshine Coalition Board of Directors voted unanimously to bestow the 2014 award to Merriam based on his 35-plus years of innumerable presentations, consultations, lobbying, and other outreach efforts designed to open government records and meetings, many of which were done at no charge on behalf members of the Coalition and media outlets that had been denied access to government in Kansas. Continue>>>

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