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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January 5, 2015 6:49 AM

Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Hal Harper has spent every workday for the last two months dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests from a convicted murderer.

Harper, who started two months ago as one of the department’s Freedom Of Information Act officers, said that Daniel Cleary recently sent a request for 2,500 pages of documents and a DVD of his police interrogations.

The Illinois General Assembly in early December passed an amendment to the state’s FOIA law that deals with voluminous requests. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill, after which the General Assembly voted to override the veto. The new changes allow public bodies to charge for time, materials, transportation and other costs associated with providing material in FOIA filings. Continue>>>
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December 30, 2014 11:23 AM

Richmond officials are looking to open up more city data to the public by making information available on government spending, permits, crime and real estate.

Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District, introduced an ordinance this month that would require the city to publish its payment register on the city’s website.

The administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones also has been working on an open-data project through the finance and information technology departments, according to the mayor’s office. Continue>>>
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December 30, 2014 11:21 AM

It’s an unusual situation when a governmental agency releasing information to the public is a negative thing from a journalistic perspective, but the manner in which the Tallahassee Police Department did so this week is highly questionable. The department has been under plenty of public fire this year thanks to reports from Fox Sports and The New York Times alleging that they hindered investigations against Florida State football players, and an ESPN freedom of information request was set to bring forth plenty of other documents that portrayed the department in a bad light.

The TPD elected to go on a counteroffensive, damaging what would have been a powerful ESPN exclusive by releasing those documents themselves (on Christmas Eve, a low-traffic day if there ever was one). That’s problematic in its own right, especially when you add in the revelation that they acted to rectify a mistake (not testing DNA in a rape case) before releasing the documents, but even more concerning is how the department included the cell phone number of ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne (who submitted the FOI) in that release, potentially subjecting her to harassment from angry Seminoles fans. Continue>>>
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December 30, 2014 11:19 AM

Along with police departments in New York City and Los Angeles, Seattle police are preparing to test body cams on officers in the field. In an attempt to find a balance between releasing footage and redacting private details, Seattle police held a hackathon of Friday.

Discussion around whether law enforcement agents should wear body cams has surged in the months since the shooting of Michael Brown. And as funding comes through for pilot programs, it's increasingly important to answer question about how these devices will be implemented.

As GeekWire reports, about 80 people—including developers, community members, and law enforcement agents—attended the Seattle Police hackathon. The goal was to work on techniques for redacting things captured in streamed dashboard or body cam video such as people's faces or license plate numbers. The hackathon was specifically looking to address these topics as they relate to Washington’s privacy laws, but the work could be relevant all over the country. Continue>>>
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December 30, 2014 11:18 AM

The National Security Agency has a lot to keep track of – all those electronic communications and other signals, mostly innocuous but some of which are critical to national security, collectively known as “signals intelligence” or SIGINT.

In the post-9/11 world of terrorist threats, unconventional war, and rapidly advancing technology, sorting through and making sense of all that SIGINT becomes increasingly critical.

So does protecting the civil liberties of individual Americans, whose private and personal information – from cell phone records to email communication – may get vacuumed up (or specifically targeted) in the NSA’s massive electronic spying efforts. Continue>>>
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ACLU, eavesdropping, NSA
December 30, 2014 11:14 AM

The Associated Press announced Thursday it will create “a team of state government specialists” in an effort to bolster coverage of statehouses across America.

The new team will “be a resource to our statehouse reporters looking for help broadening the scope of their reporting,” Brian Carovillano, AP’s managing editor for U.S. news, wrote in a brief Q and A accompanying the announcement. They will also work with a projects team that will turn out “ambitious enterprise” journalism on state government.

“The message here is that state government coverage is essential to AP and its members, and we are doubling down on that commitment, which should benefit the entire cooperative,” Carovillano wrote. Continue>>>
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December 22, 2014 3:14 PM
Wisconsin State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says that putting body cameras on police would almost always vindicate police officers accused of using excessive force, but taxpayers' money would be better spent elsewhere. I'm not sure "almost always" would be the case but the evidence suggests that body cameras would result in fewer complaints against officers and less use of excessive force.
 
It also would help open up more government work to the public's eye, something that Van Hollen, who has rightly won recognition for his work on open government issues, should understand. Body cameras can help build trust between the police and the public by enhancing the public's ability to understand what its most visible public agents are doing.
 
Police have extraordinarily difficult responsibilities and extraordinary powers; and most of them do their work quietly and extremely well. But a handful on occasion slip and a handful may be bad actors. Given the powers they have and the weapons they carry, the results can be deadly and tragic. Continue>>>
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December 22, 2014 3:12 PM
The Washington Post reports that Facebook has complied with a Russian government demand to block access to a page supporting Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny:
 
"In a sign of new limits on Facebook’s ability to serve as a platform for political opposition movements, Russian users appear to have been blocked from accessing a page calling for a protest in support of a prominent dissident.
 
In 2011, Facebook was hailed by opposition movements during the Arab Spring and in Russia as a powerful new tool to spread information beyond the control of repressive governments. That may no longer be the case, at least not in Russia. Russian Internet regulators said Saturday that they had sent Facebook a “demand” that it block access to a page calling for a demonstration in support of Alexei Navalny, the most prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin…."  Continue>>>
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Censorship, facebook, Russia
December 22, 2014 3:10 PM
The Texas attorney general’s office has intervened to force Prime Prep Academy to release public documents it has withheld from The Dallas Morning News for months.
 
The troubled charter school had 10 business days to provide all the documents to the attorney general, but it appears Prime Prep will miss that Friday deadline. Edwin Flores, the school’s attorney in this matter, said he forwarded all documents he’s received, but some still haven’t been produced by administrators.
 
The information requested from Prime Prep included noncontroversial documents that are routinely released by local governments, which have 10 business days to produce them. Those documents requested included a full copy of the school’s budget, board meeting minutes, a campus lease and a copy of a recent lawsuit settlement. Continue>>>
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December 22, 2014 3:09 PM
Many state government leaders are vowing to reform the state's contracting practices, particularly to reduce the amount of no-bid deals.
 
They've got a tough job ahead of them, bless their hearts. Every lobbyist and special interest agent worth his or her salt is likely to fight this one. Government contracts are the mother's milk of private profit from taxpayer dollars.
 
But two things will help: 2015 is an election year, and the state has been rocked by the prison contracts kickback scandal. Continue>>>
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December 22, 2014 3:07 PM
You can do the wrong thing even for what sounds like a good reason. Just take a look at what the Maine Department of Public Safety has in mind for the upcoming legislative session.
 
The department has proposed a bill that would make it more difficult for the public to access certain data from 911 emergency calls: personal medical information, as well as information about sexual assault and domestic violence. The bill, which has yet to be drafted, is titled “An Act to Protect the Privacy and Dignity of People who Call E-9-1-1 for Help,” and it is intended, officials say, to protect members of the public in traumatic circumstances.
 
While that is a good reason for a law, lawmakers should put intentions aside and take a hard look at the proposal would actually do. Continue>>>
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December 22, 2014 3:06 PM
Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act prevents universities from disclosing information about students found responsible for sex crimes and violence even though the federal law meant to protect student privacy explicitly tells schools to make that information public.
 
The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, says the name of a student found responsible for a crime of violence or nonforcible sex offense is a public record along with the violation and the sanction.
 
In Virginia, such records are exempted from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Following the controversy generated by Rolling Stone’s tale of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, The Daily Progress made a series of open records requests, including one for complaints filed with the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board, asking that names be redacted. The school rejected the request, citing state code. Continue>>>
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