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

July 16, 2014 1:17 AM

It’s a big question really. Why would seven judges decide that the police can keep information about crime secret from the American public? That is essentially what the state Supreme Court did July 7.

Before becoming Supreme Court justices, four of the seven who decided the case were either prosecutors or city attorneys, one was an FBI agent — species not prone to informing the public. The justice who wrote the 27-page opinion, Richard Robinson, (there are no concurring or dissenting opinions) worked as a city lawyer for Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy.

On the 27th page of Commissioner of Public Safety vs. Freedom of Information Commission, Mr. Justice Robinson writes that the issue should be “squarely on the radar of the legislature” and he suggests that open government advocates should “pursue appropriate legislative remedies.” Continue>>>

July 16, 2014 1:10 AM

Judicial Watch, a public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, says federal Judge Emmitt Sullivan has ordered the Internal Revenue Service to produce documents of sworn testimonies describing what happened to emails of former IRS official Lois Lerner and others – and what steps have been taken to try to recover those records.

Fitton, Tom (Judicial Watch)"We're suspicious the IRS is not telling the truth when they say the emails have been lost and can't be recovered," says Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. "We think they're there somewhere."

The records Judicial Watch has already obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have been very revealing, Fitton adds. "What we know to date [is] you've got IRS suppression; we've proved President Obama is lying about the IRS; and now we know that there's been a cover up of the destruction of records and there's been obstruction of investigations, that's for sure," he shares. Continue>>>

July 16, 2014 1:08 AM

The United States' Department of State Freedom of Information Act has said that the public disclosure of emails by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, during his time with the agency, "could cause an unwarranted invasion of persdonal private", according to a report on The Desk website.

A letter dated 1 July by chief FOIA officer, Pamela Phillips, responding to a FOIA request by Matthew Keys of The Desk, said that: "Records pertaining to Mr. Snowden are withheld pursuant to the seventh exemption of the FOIA ... which protects from disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes.

"This includes information that, if released, could interfere with enforcement proceedings, could cause an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, could reveal the identities of confidential sources, or would reveal law enforcement techniques and procedures," said Phillips in the letter. Continue>>>

DOS, Edward Snowden, NSA, privacy
July 16, 2014 1:07 AM

On July 20, 2013, agents of the U.K. government entered The Guardian newsroom in London and compelled them to physically destroy the computers they were using to report on the Edward Snowden archive. The Guardian reported this a month later after my partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow Airport for 11 hours under a British terrorism law and had all of his electronic equipment seized. At the time, the Obama administration -- while admitting that it was told in advance of the Heathrow detention -- pretended that it knew nothing about the forced laptop destruction and would never approve of such attacks on press freedom.

But emails just obtained by Associated Press pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) prove that senior Obama national security officials -- including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-NSA chief Keith Alexander -- not only knew in advance that U.K. officials intended to force The Guardian to destroy their computers, but overtly celebrated it.

One email, dated July 19 (the day prior to the destruction) bears the subject line "Guardian data being destroyed" and is from NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett to Alexander. He writes: "Good news, at least on this front." The next day, almost immediately after the computers were destroyed, Alexander emailed Ledgett: "Can you confirm this actually occurred?" Hours later, under the same subject line, Clapper emailed Alexander, saying: "Thanks Keith ... appreciate the conversation today." Continue>>>

July 16, 2014 1:05 AM

The open data movement is about more than government agencies being transparent, it's driving efficiencies across government and industry in Australia, says GovHack's national coordinator Pia Waugh.

GovHack is an Australia-wide hackathon event where developers produce innovative tools and apps using open government data.

There are currently 3,677 datasets on, including an estimated 500 new datasets that were published in the few weeks leading up to GovHack 2014. More than 1,200 developers across Australia hacked away over a 48-hour period at this year’s event on 11-13 July.

Waugh gave examples of GovHack projects in the past that have been implemented in government and industry to help drive efficiencies.

The Open Budget project, developed during GovHack 2012, was implemented for this year’s Federal Budget. It’s a visualisation tool that allows citizens to easily see where different government agencies spend their money. Continue>>>

Australia, open data
July 16, 2014 1:04 AM

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has sued two state agencies in R.I. Superior Court, asserting they violated open government regulations.

On Friday, Kilmartin filed separate complaints against the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and the Rhode Island State Properties Committee. Kilmartin cites the DBR for a reckless violation of the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) when the agency failed to respond to a July 10, 2013, reporter’s request.

The Attorney General’s office said that in a previous finding, Scripps News v. Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations, the Attorney General’s office found the Department of Business Regulations violated the public records act when it failed to timely respond to the July 10, 2013 request. The act says a public body has 10 business days to respond to a documents request. Continue>>>

July 14, 2014 10:23 AM

A Florida circuit court judge ruled the state legislature’s redistricting of U.S. congressional seats violated the Florida Constitution.

Judge Terry P. Lewis of the Second Circuit Court in Tallahassee ruled the boundaries drawn by Florida’s legislature amounted to a “secret, organized campaign to subvert the supposedly open and transparent redistricting process.”

The Thursday night decision stems from two cases brought against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Attorney General Pam Bondi challenging the state’s congressional redistricting. In the ruling, Judge Lewis says the redistricting approved by the Republican majorities in Florida's House and Senate in 2012 violated Florida’s Fair District Amendments, which require redistricting irrespective of political party or incumbency. Continue>>>

July 14, 2014 10:22 AM

President Barack Obama promised to create “a new era of openness” on the first day of his first term. It’s a sad irony that his administration has continued the 20-year trend of being less and less open to journalists. It has prosecuted leaks and leakers, threatened journalists with jail, denied credentials, and established policies that restrict federal officials from talking to reporters.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), which I belong to, sent the president a letter July 8. It said, “You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

Even today the White House website trumpets the beauty of openness. It says, “President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.” Continue>>>

July 14, 2014 10:21 AM

It’s not every day that NASA creates a position just for you. NASA did just that for Chris C. Kemp in 2010. The tech pioneer became the space agency’s first Chief Technology Officer for Information Technology, appointed to lead and nurture IT innovation at the U.S. space agency.

NASA created a CTO role for Chris C. Kemp to lead.
Kemp focused on cloud computing, open-source software and open government, and prior to becoming CTO for IT, partnered with Google and Microsoft to help create Google Moon, Google Mars, and Microsoft World Wide Telescope. He also led the development of OpenStack, an open-source cloud project, with the goal of enabling any organization to create and offer cloud computing services running on standard hardware.

Kemp went on to found Nebula, which makes cloud computing hardware appliances, and now serves as the company’s chief strategy officer. He is one of several tech thinkers who will speak at Interzone, a Canadian Cloud Council event in Banff, Alberta, next year. He’ll partake in a fireside chat titled, “From Old To New Order Technology At Breakneck Speed.” Continue>>>

NASA, open source, Software
July 14, 2014 10:20 AM

OGIS recently set up a pop-up shop, of sorts, on the West Coast offering one-on-one mini ombuds sessions with journalists and gathering ideas for improving the FOIA process.

I’m pleased to have represented OGIS at the annual conference of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving investigative reporting. The conference, June 26-29 in San Francisco, came on the heels of the inaugural meeting of the FOIA Advisory Committee, which is mandated with studying FOIA across the government and advising on ways to improve FOIA. The committee’s first meeting included brainstorming on legislative, policy and process changes to improve the FOIA process.

Journalists attending the IRE conference had some ideas for improving the process, which they shared with me and others at a session titled “Help Shape FOIA Reform & Join the #FOIAFriday Community.” Several of the ideas include, in no particular order: Continue>>>

July 14, 2014 10:19 AM
Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and John Cornyn of Texas, leaders of the Judiciary Committee, have long shown an admirable commitment to open government, and their recent bill to amend the Freedom of Information Act is winning a ton of praise. Some of its reforms make sense, but, unfortunately, its key provision is a horrible idea. By reducing the protection now given to deliberations within the executive branch, it would have a chilling effect on those discussions.
To see the problem, suppose that officials at the State and Homeland Security departments are vigorously discussing a new approach to immigration reform before important decisions are made. If the process is working well, officials will exchange a lot of views and disagree with one another in significant ways. Assistant secretaries at State might argue energetically for an idea that the secretary ultimately rejects. The deputy secretary of Homeland Security might object to a position that both departments endorse in the end.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, such internal discussions usually need not be disclosed. Like senators and U.S. Supreme Court justices, officials in the executive branch are allowed to have confidential conversations as they work toward their decisions. Continue>>>
amendment, FOIA, legislation
July 14, 2014 10:18 AM

Regulating is an inherently legislative exercise, in that it entails the promulgation of rules that control private behavior. Indeed, most policy now is rendered via regulation, thanks to the geometric growth of the executive branch during the post-war years.*

However, unlike legislators in congress, executive agency bureaucrats are unaccountable to the electorate. As a result, there’s a danger that executive agencies are effectuating policy absent a popular mandate and away from the public eye.

In theory, the hazard of unaccountable policy-making could be mitigated largely by the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, which enables any person to request, without explanation or justification, access to existing, identifiable, and unpublished executive branch agency records.

In practice, however, federal agencies routinely circumvent information requests, and the censors’ primary tool for achieving opacity is a statutory exemption from disclosing “deliberative process.” Colloquially, it’s known as the “b(5)” exemption, after its statutory provision (5 U.S.C. §552(b)(5)); among information seekers, it’s known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. Continue>>>

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