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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February 12, 2015 2:39 PM

Three Southern California civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday against two federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection, claiming they are wrongly withholding information that should be publicly available.

They are requesting information about a Border Patrol practice known as roving patrols, in which agents conduct searches of people and vehicles away from the border and away from checkpoints in the country’s interior.

The suing organizations are the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the University of California Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:33 PM

Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs (FRAYR'-ikz) waited four days last month for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to declare that he should keep a taxpayer-funded report about sexual harassment allegations against his predecessor under wraps.

The Associated Press and other news organizations had been waiting 10 months for the same decision.

Madigan's office says the attorney general does not play favorites and blames the delay on a backlog.

A spokeswoman says that when Frerichs inquired, the office's public access counselor realized an opinion had been written "for some time" but not distributed. Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:30 PM

A bipartisan group of senators filed a brief late last night in federal appeals court in support of the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times’ lawsuits seeking Justice Department legal memos on U.S. targeted killing operations.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) wrote in their friend-of-the-court brief that they supported the Freedom of Information Act lawsuits because they believe the government should not be creating a body of “secret law” concerning the extrajudicial killing of American citizens.

The senators wrote that they are “deeply concerned that the Executive Branch’s excessive secrecy is frustrating the purposes of FOIA and impeding a healthy debate on an issue of paramount importance: when the Government may use drone strikes to kill one of its own citizens without charge or trial.” Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 2:02 PM

When Maryland adopted its public information policy 45 years ago, email hadn't been invented yet, commercial laser printers were being refined for the market and the ink on the federal Freedom of Information Act was barely dry.

On Tuesday open government advocates began their push to update the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970.

"Democracy is built on transparency," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, who is sponsoring the bill. "We've got a good law but it hasn't been updated in four decades." Continue>>>
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February 12, 2015 1:56 PM

A civil liberties group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service, demanding more information about a controversial surveillance tactic involving airplanes that fly over urban areas in order to sweep up cell phone signals.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit, filed in Washington, claims that the group demanded documents about the plane program under freedom-of-information laws last November, but that the federal government has so far failed to turn them over as required.

The plane program in question came to light last after the Wall Street Journal revealed how the Justice Department straps small devices known as “dirtboxes” to Cessna planes in order to lock on to cell signals. The devices, which measure two feet square, are reportedly capable of recording location, phone data and even conversations. Continue>>>

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February 12, 2015 1:50 PM

On Tuesday, Jeb Bush, “in the spirit of transparency,” released a mass of emails sent to him during his time as Florida governor.

Many of the emails are the stuff of public record, and “would have surfaced anyway due to sunshine laws and nosy journalists,” as The Christian Science Monitor put it.

Indeed, most of Mr. Bush’s emails came with a disclaimer: “Most written communications to or from state officials regarding state business are public records available to the public and media upon request. Your e-mail communications may therefore be subject to public disclosure.” Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:27 AM

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has turned down an FOIA request from The Hill to release more than 500 pages of documents relating to the Tea Party targeting scandal at the IRS.

This is just the latest indication that the Obama administration is trying to "run out the clock" on the investigation so that current officials will be out of government by the time any useful information is released.

What makes these 500 pages of documents so important is that they were used as a basis for the TIGTA report of May, 2013 in which the IRS was accused of using "inappropriate criteria" to target conservative groups. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:24 AM

A Richmond judge has thrown out most of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the city related to the departure last year of former chief administrative officer Byron C. Marshall, but left room for more legal wrangling.

The judge’s ruling makes clear that the city is on shaky legal ground with its refusal to disclose the confidentiality agreements City Council members were asked to sign before being briefed on Marshall’s exit in September.

In a ruling dated Wednesday, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Joi Jeter Taylor said she had reviewed the confidentiality agreement privately, and she concluded it is not protected by public-records exemptions related to personnel records and attorney-client privilege, as the city had argued. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:19 AM

A proposal to invite all 87 of Utah's Republican state lawmakers into a closed-door debate on health care policy is raising concerns.

State senators appeared Monday to be balking at the idea of a joint behind-the-scenes discussion with their House counterparts about Gov. Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan before voting on a hallmark issue of the 2015 legislative session.

Newly installed House Speaker Greg Hughes said last week the proposed caucus would be a "roll-your-sleeves-up, speak bluntly meeting" to thoroughly vet Herbert's proposals on health care funding for tens of thousands of low-income Utahns. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:14 AM

State officials say more than 60 percent of Maryland local governments haven’t complied with a 2013 state law requiring training in the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The Carroll County Times reported Sunday that that the Open Meetings Compliance Board sees lots of room for improvement. Chairwoman Monica Johnson says local officials must be educated about the law.

The law requires all government boards, commissions, task forces and bodies subject to the Open Meetings Act to designate a person to take a training class. They had until April 1 to designate a trainee and tell the attorney general’s office when the training was completed. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:10 AM

Phrases like “housing vouchers” and “senior accessibility” aren’t commonly heard at a weekend hackfest. But those words were the focus of one of Seattle’s largest open data hackathons ever — a unique event hosted by Zillow and the University of Washington this weekend.

More than 200 developers spent most of the past 72 hours at Zillow’s downtown Seattle headquarters for “Hack Housing,” an event that encouraged teams to use public government data to build solutions that help people find affordable and accessible places to live — specifically first-time homebuyers, senior citizens, and low-income renters.

The judges awarded the $10,000 first-place prize to SmartMove, an app developed by Tim Lebell, Jake Grajewski, and David Puerto that determines the best place to live based on proximity to a person’s most-visited locations, like a workplace, the grocery store, and other places critical to their daily lives. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:06 AM

The term Sunshine State has also come to describe a state government that is open and accessible to all citizens, most clearly expressed in our state’s open government laws.
But a profound and dangerous darkness has overtaken every corner of state government and most especially in Tallahassee.

Gov. Rick Scott recently boldly acknowledged this creeping darkness when he asserted that “longstanding convention and tradition” were the explanation for blatant violations of the law. Continue>>>
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