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 12, 2014 12:11 AM

Safeguarding open government is a constant struggle. Backsliding can happen easily if people aren’t vigilant.

We have a case in point right here in Sacramento on the eve of Sunshine Week, the annual series of events spotlighting the importance of public access to government.

Last April, Sacramento City Council members, in a welcome advance for openness, decided that all labor agreements and any contracts topping $1 million should be posted on the city’s website for at least 10 days before a council vote. The change to their rules of procedure took effect July 1.

Yet there was a proposal before council members to kill the 10-day rule for big contracts – at least until The Bee’s editorial board starting nosing around and a local watchdog group raised a stink. Continue>>>
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editorial
March 11, 2014 4:55 AM

Part of promoting better broadband in Minnesota is promoting better uses of broadband and one of my favorite uses is civic technology – or creating greater opportunities for civic engagement using technology. The easy example (especially given our current winter!) is Adopt-a-Hydrant, a website where residents can sign up to take responsibility for making sure that their adopted hydrant remains accessible. Usually that means shoveling it out after a snowstorm. It’s a huge task for the city to take on shoveling out each hydrant. It’s not so difficult when citizens can volunteer to take on one hydrant. It’s the essence of crowdsourcing – or the old adage many hands make light work. But they only way Adopt-a-Hydrant works is when the developers the website have access to the location of each hydrant. Access to the open data opens the door to greater civic engagement. It’s just one example.

Open data becomes valuable when developers know it’s available and are able to create applications that make the data useful (as happened at the Capitol Code event a couple weekends ago) and when citizens know that the applications are available. There is legislation being introduced to promote and facilitate access to open data and understanding of open government applications. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 3:44 AM

When Florida media groups are concerned about freedom of the press and open government, they turn to the First Amendment Foundation for help.

Pete Weitzel, former senior editor of the Miami Herald, founded the non-profit 30 years ago.

The foundation is funded through contributions. It provides training, legal aid, and the annual Government in the Sunshine Manual as a guide to Florida’s open meetings and public-records laws.

This is a busy time of year for foundation president Barbara Petersen. With the legislative session underway in Tallahassee, she’s lobbying lawmakers for more government transparency and fewer public records exemptions. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 2:33 AM

Councils are not doing anything with valuable data that offers insight into the needs of communities, according to the local government thinktank Localis. In their report, based on interviews with council leaders in the UK, they said that local authorities could use data to find out what residents want in a similar way private companies such as Amazon do.

Council leaders said that, particularly around the integration of health and social care, partners were unwilling to share data and that a lack of knowledge about data protection laws was holding things back.

Camden council announced its digital strategy last week, setting out how technology and analysing data could help local authorities deliver services. Councillor Theo Blackwell said that the council wants to "realise how digital technology and big data can be a way to save money and improve services through co-production, collaboration and challenges by residents and businesses". Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 1:22 AM

Uncle Sam wants a few good innovators -- again. The White House has launched the third round of its Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, which pairs tech-savvy entrepreneurs from the private sector with top government officials to tackle selected challenges facing the administration.

The program's "lean startup" approach has delivered a variety of tools, including ones that help the public save on utility bills and improve access to government health information, and it has brought acclaim to participants.

The White House will assign the latest round of applicants to one of 14 projects in six- to 12-month sprints focused on three major initiatives: Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 12:11 AM

When folks are elected to public office — from local school boards to city councils to county commissions — many have little to no experience with state law regarding public access to government information.

#When the citizens (and media) seek information inadvertent mistakes are too often made because some elected officials simply don’t understand the who, what, where, when, why and how of the state’s open government laws.

#And, as a result, it costs taxpayers a lot to settle lawsuits.

#State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has been pushing for a state law to require open government training for most public officials. Last week, he got it. Legislation was approved by the Legislature. Continue>>>
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March 10, 2014 5:06 AM

We're quoting from the preamble of New York state's Freedom of Information Law. It requires governments to release records of their activities, with some exceptions, so that taxpayers know where their money is being spent and how their government is performing. FOIL is a powerful tool for demanding accountability.

Alas, saying "government is the public's business,'' and acting like it is, are two different things. Government agencies and officials routinely resist public disclosure. It takes persistence and the occasional lawsuit to pry public information out of their hands. Two recent examples we have faced show why FOIL is so necessary, and how far government (and the entities it does business with) will go to avoid disclosure under FOIL.

The first involves the State University of New York and its handling of revelations that Upstate Medical University President Dr. David Smith may have received hundreds of thousands of dollars of unauthorized compensation from two companies affiliated with Upstate. Smith resigned in early November, leaving many questions unanswered. Among them: Why didn't SUNY know about Smith's compensation arrangements (and potential self-dealing) until tipped off? Did his employment agreement permit such compensation? Was anyone else paying Smith on the side? Did anyone else at Upstate have similar pay arrangements? Continue>>>
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March 10, 2014 4:55 AM

To mark Sunshine Week, March 16-22, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explains how journalists can use information access laws to develop stories in the public interest. This post is written by Emily Grannis, the Jack Nelson FOI Legal Fellow at the RCFP.

Freedom of information laws are invaluable resources to reporters covering any beat. The laws provide access to a wide range of government documents, from budgets to emails, and contracts to crime reports.

There are two ways to incorporate freedom of information materials into your reporting: start with the documents or start with the story. Continue>>>
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March 10, 2014 3:44 AM

In the afterglow of the Edward Snowden talk at SXSW, the interactive world may be bullish about the future of privacy. And then they'll use free services that data mine their communications to talk about it. As David Tishgart of local security startup Gazzang warned, "If it's free, then you're the product."

He started his Saturday talk, "Dear Taco Vendor, How Are You Securing My Data?," with a brief personal résumé. Age, address, number of kids, even his time in the last Austin Half Marathon (about 90 minutes). "All this information is readily available. You just need my email address. You don't even need my Facebook login. Just my email."

Scared yet?

Tishgart said, "If I said, 'I'll give you this taco if you give me your email address,' would you do it?" Most of the crowd said yes. "How about if I ask you how much you made last year? Would you give me that for a taco?" Continue>>>
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FOI, privacy, SXSW
March 10, 2014 2:33 AM

Liberty Institute, in partnership with the Washington, D.C. law firm Bancroft PLLC, recently submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department and the State Department on behalf of HaYovel, Inc., a Tennessee-based nonprofit dedicated to the support of small independent farmers in Israel.

The requests seek information related to the surprise field audit the IRS conducted of HaYovel in December 2010. The audit came a few months after the organization was featured prominently in a July 5, 2010 New York Times article titled Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank.

The FOIA requests seek to determine whether there is a connection between the New York Times article, the current administration's policies with regard to Israel's settlements in the West Bank, and the audit of HaYovel in 2010. Continue>>>
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March 10, 2014 1:22 AM

Today the Republican National Committee sent a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the National Archives and Records Administration in order to find out who was responsible for improperly withholding documents at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library for over a year. The lawful withholding period of the documents expired in January 2013, but no documents were released until February 2014. Many documents have yet to be released. As such, the RNC is requesting copies of any correspondence related to the review, consideration, or withholding of documents.

This week the Clinton Library announced that the next release of documents will be delayed, making it even more important to keep a watchful eye on their actions and for any political pressure that’s affecting their behavior.

“The Clintons have a history of trying to keep their past secret from the American people. Americans deserve to know who was responsible for keeping on lockdown documents that should have been released over a year ago,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. Continue>>>

Benghazi, Clinton, FOIA, RNC
March 10, 2014 1:22 AM

Today the Republican National Committee sent a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the National Archives and Records Administration in order to find out who was responsible for improperly withholding documents at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library for over a year. The lawful withholding period of the documents expired in January 2013, but no documents were released until February 2014. Many documents have yet to be released. As such, the RNC is requesting copies of any correspondence related to the review, consideration, or withholding of documents.

This week the Clinton Library announced that the next release of documents will be delayed, making it even more important to keep a watchful eye on their actions and for any political pressure that’s affecting their behavior.

“The Clintons have a history of trying to keep their past secret from the American people. Americans deserve to know who was responsible for keeping on lockdown documents that should have been released over a year ago,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. Continue>>>

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