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 10, 2015 2:10 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union early Monday withdrew an emergency motion filed late last month in its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that blocked the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from collecting all copies of the committee’s full, unredacted report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.”

The move came after the Department of Justice (DOJ) responded to the motion on Friday night, promising that the Obama administration would not destroy or return to Senator Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, copies of the report without permission from the judge in the ACLU’s lawsuit.


“The government can now assure the court that it will preserve the status quo either until the issue of whether the Full Report is a congressional document or an agency record is resolved, or until it obtains leave of court to alter the status quo,” the Friday brief reads. Continue>>>
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February 10, 2015 1:49 PM

Details of a plot to kill Occupy Houston leaders won't be released after a federal court upheld the FBI's claim that the documents are legally exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.

The FBI argued information was withheld, including 12 of 17 relevant pages, to protect the identity of confidential sources who were "members of organized violent groups," according to Courthouse News Service.

A heavily-redacted FBI document first revealed a Houston plot "to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles." Continue>>>
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February 10, 2015 1:43 PM

Five years ago, a taxpayer watchdog invoked the state Freedom of Information Law and started a court battle for access to the names of retired public employees who are collecting pensions, along with the amounts of their payments.

The litigation drags on, despite a ruling by New York’s highest court that the information is public. As it clearly is under the law. As it must be in order for the public to scrutinize New York’s vast, increasingly expensive public retirement systems.

In the latest round, the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association have gotten a hearing before Brooklyn Acting Supreme Court Justice Peter Sweeney. Continue>>>
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February 10, 2015 1:30 PM

Thanks to controversy surrounding a student newspaper’s open records request, the public now knows that Jack White is currently on a “no banana” tour, that he prefers his guacamole “chunky” and that he doesn’t think much of journalism degrees.

Those details were revealed after the University of Oklahoma’s OU Daily got curious about White’s sold-out performance at the university’s McCasland Field House. Staffers wanted to see how much the University was paying White to perform (upwards of $80,000, it turns out), so they filed an open records request for the contract.

The paper received the document and published it on its website. Among the most interesting tidbits: Continue>>>

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February 10, 2015 1:25 PM

Denial of public records, excessive fees to find out what the government is doing, violations of open meetings law and long delays in getting information are some of the problems open records advocates find in Tennessee.

News media routinely face hurdles in getting information to report to the public but ordinary citizens have it 10 times worse, said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. She made the comment during the annual Associated Press-Tennessee Press Association legislative preview session.

Fisher told the story of a widow who was charged $1,000 just to see the case file involving her husband who had been shot to death by a sheriff's deputy. Continue>>>
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February 10, 2015 1:21 PM

Open government experts say he's asking for the impossible. Tim Clemans, a local computer programmer, has requested almost every email from every state agency ever sent, which some fear could push the public records act to the breaking point.

Email is one of the main ways state government workers communicate. Clemans wants the public to have access to the messages those workers send.

"I'm really looking at the big picture here," Clemans said. "I want government to be transparent by default." Continue>>>
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February 9, 2015 12:51 PM

A legislative proposal that had concerned government transparency advocates has been withdrawn by the bill’s sponsor.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, pulled House Bill 232 Thursday morning right before it was about to be debated by the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

His action effectively kills the legislation, since Friday is the deadline for bills clear the committee in their house of origin. Thursday was the last meeting this week for the House Corporations Committee. Continue>>>
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February 9, 2015 12:47 PM

A bill filed Wednesday seeks to limit the scope of the Texas Public Information Act to Texas residents.

The legislation, filed by Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, would allow members of a governmental body to decide if they want to deny or comply with open records requests filed by non-Texas residents. Current law stipulates public information in Texas must be made available to all members of the public, without regard to residency.

“The purpose of Texas government is to serve Texans, not folks from other places,” Schofield said. “It costs money and takes time every time we have a request.” Continue>>>
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February 9, 2015 12:43 PM

Proposals aimed at ending governmental abuses of the state's open records law advanced Wednesday in the South Carolina House.

Legislation sent to the full House Judiciary Committee would require government entities to respond more quickly to requests, bar them from charging excessive fees, and create a way to settle disputes quickly and cheaply.

"It's designed to clean up the abuses that exist and are in practice today and make it easy for citizens to seek redress," said Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, the main sponsor.

Under the latest proposal, public bodies would have to respond to a public records request within 10 business days, and the information must be provided within 30 calendar days — unless the requested data is more than two years old. In that scenario, both can take five additional days. Continue>>>
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February 9, 2015 12:41 PM

We've written many stories about ridiculous responses to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests (as well as similar state and local law requests) over the years. I've personally filed a few FOIA requests over the years and have never seen one sufficiently answered in the time limit required by the law.

These days, it's becoming all too common for people to have to go to court to actually get such public records requests answered. Of course, filing a lawsuit is not easy or cheap, and unless you're the ACLU, EFF or Jason Leopold (the so-called "FOIA terrorist"), not many people actually go that far. And that's what the various government agencies depend on. I currently have two outstanding FOIA requests -- one involving Homeland Security which has simply stopped responding to repeated requests for an update (after nearly a year) and a second one involving a state government agency that is demanding thousands of dollars for a very simple request. I imagine I'll have more to say on both of those eventually.

In the meantime, the EFF has decided to do something beyond just suing: naming and shaming the most egregious violators (and celebrating those who filed the requests). EFF has announced its "Foilies" awards for "the most outrageous responses to Freedom of Information Act and state open records act requests." Anyone is free to nominate examples, even if you weren't the one who made the request. You just need to be able to point to the details of the request (whether the specific responses and/or news stories about them): Continue>>>
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EFF, FOIA request, Foilies
February 9, 2015 12:33 PM

A case headed for a Staten Island courtroom on Thursday that seeks to unlock grand jury evidence in the police killing of Eric Garner is part of a national push to pry from law enforcement information long kept secret.

While journalists and civil libertarians have historically clamored for the release of details related to questionable police actions, the crisis of confidence in law enforcement that followed Mr. Garner’s death and the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, in Ferguson, Mo., has propelled the issue onto legislative and political agendas nationwide.

From Albany to Jefferson City, Mo., to Sacramento, elected officials and law enforcement leaders are increasingly confronting demands for police information and questions of transparency in the criminal justice system. Continue>>>
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February 9, 2015 12:22 PM

The abrupt resignation of the chief of Florida's crime-fighting agency prompted media and open government advocates to file a lawsuit accusing Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet of violating state Sunshine Laws.

The Florida Society of News Editors, the Associated Press, Citizens for Sunshine and a St. Petersburg lawyer teamed up Wednesday to ask a Leon County court to rule that Scott's ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey subverted open meeting laws.

"The Governor violated the Sunshine Law by using conduits to engage in polling, discussions, communications and other exchanges with other members of the Cabinet regarding his unilateral decision to force the resignation of the FDLE Commissioner and appoint a replacement without any notice to the public, without any opportunity for the public to attend, and without any minutes being taken," the lawsuit said. Continue>>>
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