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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March 18, 2014 10:08 AM

An Associated Press study Monday found that, despite promises of openness and transparency, the Obama administration is not proving itself to be the most transparent administration ever.

“More often than ever,” the study found, “the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.”

What’s more, and this will hardly come as a shock to most reporters who’ve tried to pry information from various agencies, most agencies took longer to answer requests for records under FOIA. Administration officials note the government has gotten record numbers of such requests to deal with. Continue>>>
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Federal Government
March 18, 2014 10:06 AM

The 2014 Legislature had several opportunities to make state government more open and accessible to the public. Sadly, it passed on most of them.

State lawmakers could have set an example for their congressional colleagues by approving a modest bill to improve campaign finance disclosure. Sen. Karen Fraser co-sponsored the bill, with strong bipartisan support, that would have better informed voters about who is funding the campaigns of elected officials and ballot measures.

Millions of dollars flowed into the state last year to fight statewide ballot initiatives and promote a higher minimum wage in the city of SeaTac, and it will again this fall. But voters don’t know who is behind this money, because it comes from nonprofit organizations that hide behind a social welfare faade that shields donors from public disclosure requirements. Continue>>>
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March 18, 2014 10:05 AM

In February, the Gloversville mayor and Common Council spent nearly 90 minutes behind closed doors in a meeting a state official later said appeared to violate the state's Open Meetings Law.

In January, members of the new Montgomery County Legislature met privately with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in apparent violation of the law.

Also in January, the Johnstown Board of Education declined to immediately provide the public with details about administrative raises. A state official said the information should have been provided.

Those are just a few of the recent examples of local public officials violating the spirit of open-government laws. Continue>>>
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legislation, new york
March 16, 2014 4:55 AM

Break the state’s laws, and a citizen can expect anything from a speeding ticket to an arrest warrant.

But when an agency within New York’s $118 billion state government fails to follow a portion of the state’s own open-records law, it leads to a much different result: nothing.

A study by this newspaper of 86 state agencies found 79 were not in compliance with that part of the Freedom of Information Law. Two-thirds of the agencies had not posted a subject matter list online at all. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 3:44 AM

Carl Sagan was best known, and appropriately so, as a planetary scientist with a gift for explaining the workings of the universe to those of us who are nonscientists. In his book, "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark," he proved he knows us very well:

"One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back."

This is certainly in evidence across the landscape today. Masters of spin and subterfuge inside and outside government and inside and outside the media seem to practice their skills unchallenged. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 2:33 AM

Why do Florida's government-in-the-sunshine laws matter so much? Because when nobody watches government closely, bad things happen.

Because democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and it's impossible to know what's happening without access to records and meetings.

Because how else would we know about the dangers of speeding cops in South Florida, or the prevalence of bear attacks in a Central Florida town, or the enormous number of sexual predators who attack again after their release?

People know about these threats because of government records obtained by the Sun Sentinel — and our sister paper, the Orlando Sentinel — in the past year. Before our reporters combed the records and connected the dots, no one had grasped the magnitude of the problems. No one would know yet, but for Florida's famous open-government laws. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 1:22 AM

It was a chilling crime and, even with a quick arrest, disturbing questions lingered.

Derrick Thompson called 911 in the coastal Maine city of Biddeford to report that he was being threatened. Police checked out the complaint, decided it was a civil matter and left the scene. Three minutes later, the teenager and his girlfriend were shot dead.

In a state averaging 25 murders a year, the case was clearly of public interest and the police officers were doing the public's business. But answering questions about their handling of the call took a lawsuit, an appeal and 11 months after state prosecutors turned down the Portland Press Herald's request for 911 transcripts. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 12:11 AM

As stated in the preamble to the Brown Act, our state’s open government law: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

In the last few weeks, the city of San Diego has experienced two major failures in providing the public with open and transparent government.

First, the Balboa Park Celebration Inc. committee was given city tax dollars to put together a 2015 centennial celebration. It received $450,000 in 2011 and another $2.3 million in 2013 to stage the event, but there is nothing to celebrate. The committee has nothing to show for all the money spent and is closing its doors and leaving behind a big mess. Worse, when originally asked by the public and media to provide records, they argued they did not have to because they were a private organization. The arrogance of this response was not lost on the public, and litigation was threatened to gain access. The committee finally began providing some records, but only after the threat of litigation. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 12:11 AM

As stated in the preamble to the Brown Act, our state’s open government law: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

In the last few weeks, the city of San Diego has experienced two major failures in providing the public with open and transparent government.

First, the Balboa Park Celebration Inc. committee was given city tax dollars to put together a 2015 centennial celebration. It received $450,000 in 2011 and another $2.3 million in 2013 to stage the event, but there is nothing to celebrate. The committee has nothing to show for all the money spent and is closing its doors and leaving behind a big mess. Worse, when originally asked by the public and media to provide records, they argued they did not have to because they were a private organization. The arrogance of this response was not lost on the public, and litigation was threatened to gain access. The committee finally began providing some records, but only after the threat of litigation. Continue>>>
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March 13, 2014 4:55 AM

While former NSA-er Edward Snowden has demonstrated his own particular method to fostering greater government transparency, there are alternate ways that won't require you to seek asylum in a foreign country. One officially sanctioned avenue is by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
FOIA was a 1966 federal law that grants the public and the press access to previously unreleased government information and documents (several states have since enacted their own state-specific Freedom of Information acts).
Annoyingly, given the rapid development of information technology since the 1960s, the process for attaining once-secret documents is not as simplified as it should be. As it stands now, FOIA requests can take several weeks or months to process and each federal department has their own individual (and occasionally labyrinthine) FOIA process. So, there's currently unique and separate processes to find information from agencies like the NSA, the CIA, and the Air Force. Continue>>>
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March 13, 2014 3:44 AM

Just in time for Sunshine Week, the must read document of the week, month, year is out. It’s the “high-altitude electromagnetic pulse” which Senator Dianne Feinstein (previously no foe of the Security State) has just launched at the Central Intelligence Agency. In a Senate floor speech, she accused the Agency of concealing –then deleting– documents that the Senate Intelligence Committee was reviewing about the CIA torture program. Her statement is a must read. Even the Times’ headline “Feinstein Publicly Accuses C.I.A. of Spying on Congress,” is too soft. Read the full statement here.

According to Feinstein, the Agency initially denied that it had removed the torture documents, then blamed the removal on IT staff, and subsequently and untruthfully stated that the removal of some torture documents “was ordered by the White House.”

Additionally, according to Feinstein, the CIA has attempted and failed to suppress the Senate Intelligence Committee’s access to a document she calls the “Panetta Review” of the torture program that largely (and as opposed to Director Brennan) agrees with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. Continue>>>
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March 13, 2014 2:33 AM

Shortly after his election in 2008, President Obama launched the Open Government Initiative, an effort to increase transparency, participation and collaboration in the federal government. The White House website noted that government data had traditionally been inaccessible to the public:

“For too long, the American people have experienced a culture of secrecy in Washington, where information is locked up, taxpayer dollars disappear without a trace, and lobbyists wield undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well-connected at the expense of the American people.”

The initiative introduced a number of websites to offer raw government data directly to the public. On Data.gov, citizens can access government datasets from a variety of disciplines — from National Science Foundation research grants to the FDIC failed bank list. On USASpending.gov, citizens can download federal spending data by location, year, agency or category — for example, all spending on Department of Defense contracts in 2010. Continue>>>
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