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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September 25, 2014 10:28 AM

The Legal Studies Institute (LSI) at the College of Staten Island (CSI) presents 'Choosing Not to Choose: Autonomy, Paternalism, and Public Policy,' its inaugural annual lecture that covers Law, Philosophy, and Public Policy on Monday, September 29th at the College of Staten Island Center for the Arts, 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island.

The presenter is Cass R. Sunstein, Professor at Harvard Law School and founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy. Previously Mr. Sunstein was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He has testified before congressional committees on many subjects, and he has been involved in constitution-making and law reform activities in a number of nations.

The presentation will discuss how governments and private organizations sometimes make 'default' choices for individuals - for example, when they select a health care or retirement plan for them unless they opt out of it. Alternatively, these organizations sometimes force individuals to make an active choice between two or more alternatives as a condition of employment or the receipt of some other benefit or service. Continue>>>
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September 25, 2014 10:26 AM

One of the many questions parents have as part of the controversial school curriculum debate in the Jefferson County School District concerns their legal rights to information from the school board.

If you are in the Jefferson County or have questions about your district there is help finding out your rights to know what is going on in your school district. The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition is holding a free informational seminar on Monday, September 29 starting at 7 p.m. about the public's right to know information and its access to open meetings.

"For parents who want to find out what's going on in their school system, these are laws that are incredibly powerful tools to keep them abreast of what's going on with their kids," said Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. Continue>>>
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September 25, 2014 10:25 AM

Data.gov wants to be the fuel that helps power the organizations and people that will change the world.

Data by itself is just the tinder for the spark of imagination and innovation. Without it many of the kinds of innovations we see like iTriage, Bright Scope, and Patients Like Me would not be possible. The Data.gov project is how the United States government, under the Obama administration, is striving to empower citizens to create the change they envision; not just by fixing a temporary problem, but by helping to let citizens solve the problem themselves.

Jeanne Holm is the lead for communications, collaboration, and outreach for the Data.gov project. In this interview, she shares with me how this flagship open government project is coming along since it's inception in 2009. Continue>>>
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September 25, 2014 10:23 AM

A legal challenge over whether documents related to the Florida Legislature's 2012 effort to redraw the state's congressional districts can be made public is now before the state's Supreme Court justices. The first hearing on the matter began Friday.

The Florida League of Women Voters and a group of individuals sued the Florida Legislature alleging lawmakers violated laws created by the 2010 Fair Districts Amendments, which mandates the state draw districts that don't favor one party over the other. Although, the League and others won that case, documents related to case weren't made public.

At issue are 538 confidential pages ó including emails, maps and memos ó related to the redistricting effort. GOP political consultants maintain the memos are trade secrets. Continue>>>
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September 25, 2014 10:21 AM

It's more of the same. The Internal Revenue Service continues to be secretive about its intentions to investigate churches and pastors - nearly two months after it settled a lawsuit with an atheist group.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) submitted a Freedom of Information request to the IRS, asking for documents related to a legal settlement with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), in which the IRS apparently adopted new protocols and procedures for the investigation of churches.

The request was filed in July, but the IRS recently told ADF it would not provide information until Sept. 29 - well past the timeframe allowed by law - even though the information ADF is requesting is the same that the IRS has already provided to the FFRF as part of the suit. Continue>>>
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Church, IRS, taxes
September 23, 2014 8:55 AM

In 2007, Jeffrey Scudder, a veteran information technology specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency, came across the archives of the agency's in-house magazine, Studies in Intelligence. The catch: They were classified. So Scudder filed a Freedom of Information Act request. And then things got messy. "I submitted a FOIA and it basically destroyed my entire career," he told the Washington Post.

As a profile of Scudder in the Post explains: He was confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family's computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.

Now, in response to a lawsuit filed by Scudder, the CIA has declassified and released some of the hundreds of journal articles he's requested. Nearly 250 of them have been posted on the CIA's website. Published over four decades, they offer a fascinating peek at the history of US intelligence as well as the corporate culture of "the Company." Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:54 AM

A bitter dispute pitting Republican political consultants against groups who challenged Florida's congressional map spilled out in front of the state's highest court on Friday.

The Supreme Court has been asked to decide whether or not secret evidence should have been used during a landmark redistricting trial. The evidence, which included 31 pages of emails and documents, was reviewed by the judge but has not been made public.

The documents belong to employees of a Gainesville-based GOP political consulting firm who were not directly named in the lawsuit that challenged Florida's 27 congressional districts. But the groups that sued, which included the League of Women Voters of Florida, contend the documents proved that the consultants worked in concert with Republican legislators to violate the state's Fair Districts amendments. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:53 AM

During the legislative session and when lawmakers are not in session, the Legislatureís website at legis.sd.gov provides a wealth of information about proposed laws, committee hearings and votes. But the website is only valuable if information that the public has a right to know is made available.

Despite claims by lawmakers and state government officials that South Dakota is taking great strides toward transparency, much of what public officials and elected representatives are up to remains hidden.

While Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken the initiative to make state government more open and created a website (open.sd.gov) where the public can go to get information about local and state governments, his Open Government Task Force failed miserably, in our view, when only three of its recommended bills ñ minor ones at that ñ were passed by the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers, apparently, don't share the governor's view on transparency in government. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:51 AM

The more transparent and open governments can be, the better for everyone. To most people, transparency has to do with disclosure. Providing information about an issue, event, project, policy, program etc. and then providing a way for people to find and view that information.

Typically, that would suffice. However, when the term is applied in our system of government that particular definition does not go far enough to meet the publicís (expected) definition of transparency. In a democratic government, transparency should be defined as disclosure and discussion.

Transparency means helping the public understand how and why decisions that influence them are made. It means being accountable to the taxpayer. It's much easier to issue edicts with little or no explanation, give canned responses (we appreciate your input..), and clock out at the end of the day without a care because you have the power and no one is allowed to question you. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:50 AM

Some or all members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors often gather at a restaurant following their regularly scheduled voting meetings. The media has not received advanced notice of such meetings. To learn about these meetings, a reporter must attend the board meeting and then hope to be invited or overhear the board members discuss where they plan to eat.

The City Wire recently asked several members of the Board if they considered the restaurant meetings a violation of the meetings rules or a violation of the spirit of the rules. In his response, City Director Mike Lorenz acknowledged that 'some directors have dinner together after nearly every board meeting and have for at least the past year and a half that I have been a member of the board. Each time the media is invited and notified verbally in person when this takes place.'

The experience of The City Wire's two reporters who attend board meetings is that such an invitation is not always made. The only time reporters with The City Wire attended one of the restaurant meetings is when we overheard a discussion, and a board member who observed that we overheard the conversation offered us an invitation. On another night, a reporter by coincidence saw a group of board members at a restaurant. Only when the board members saw the reporter was he invited to sit with them. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:49 AM

Jon Daniel was watching cartoons with one of his sons when he created a spoof Twitter account in the name of the Peoria mayor. Out of boredom, he said, he soon began sending profane messages about sex, drugs and alcohol.

Daniel never intended for the fake account to be seen by anyone other than his friends, and it never attracted more than a few dozen followers. But within weeks the raunchy parody led to a police raid of his home and ignited a debate about online satire, free speech and the limits of a mayor's power.

Now Daniel is taking the matter to federal court in a lawsuit alleging the city violated his civil rights. The 29-year-old, who works as a tavern cook in his hometown, modeled the tweets on those of other fake accounts that lampoon sports stars by tweeting in a voice that appears drunk. He was dumbfounded when Twitter suspended the account. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:29 AM

Uncovering information that should be available to the public has become increasingly difficult under the presidency of Barack Obama, an Associated Press bureau chief says. In some cases, it surpasses the secrecy of the George W. Bush administration.

The White House's penchant for secrecy does not just apply to the federal government, according to AP's Washington bureau chief, Sally Buzbee. During a joint meeting of news editors, she stated that the same kind of behavior is starting to appear in state and local governments.

Buzbee pointed out eight ways that the Obama administration is stifling public access to information ñ including keeping reporters away from witnessing any military action the United States takes as it battles Islamic State extremists in the Middle East. Continue>>>
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