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

August 20, 2013 9:04 AM

From  What Is Crowdsourcing? 

A new IBM Center report, Using Crowdsourcing in Government, by Daren Brabham, University of Southern California, offers a nuanced understanding of just what is crowdsourcing and how government executives can use it to address specific types of public problems. Dr. Brabham says that an important distinction between crowdsourcing and other forms of online participation is that crowdsourcing “entails a mix of top-down, traditional, hierarchical process and a bottom-up, open process involving an online community.” 

The growing interest in “engaging the crowd” to identify or develop innovative solutions to public problems has been inspired by wildly successful efforts in the commercial world to design innovative consumer products or solve complex scientific problems, ranging from custom-designed T-shirts to mapping genetic DNA strands.  The Obama administration, as well as many state and local governments, have been adapting crowdsourcing techniques with some success. 

Continue ...


August 20, 2013 8:59 AM

From NextGov:  White House officials have announced expanded technical guidance to help agencies make more data accessible to the public in machine-readable formats.

Following up on President Obama’s May executive order linking the pursuit of open data to economic growth, innovation and government efficiency, two budget and science office spokesmen on Friday published a blog post highlighting new instructions and answers to frequently asked questions.

Get the rest here.



August 20, 2013 8:48 AM

From The Des Moines Register:  Open-government advocates are sponsoring three workshops next month to help Iowa citizens become more engaged, according to a news release.

It’s the second year for the program sponsored by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. This year’s workshop is titled “The People Have the Power: Making a Difference in Your Community.” Workshop topics will include public meetings and public records, and resources available through the new Iowa Public Information Board.

The sessions are free, and no registration is required. Each runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m.:

SEPT. 12: Scheman Building, Iowa State University, Ames.

SEPT. 19: PZAZZ hotel complex, Burlington.

SEPT. 26: Hilton Garden Inn, Council Bluffs.

For more information, call 515-271-2295 or email

Iowa Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

August 20, 2013 8:43 AM

From Jason Leopold at Public Record:  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicated that the FBI has likely located responsive records pertaining to investigative journalist Michael Hastings, who died in a tragic car accident in Los Angeles in June, and the agency expects to finish processing the records in about three weeks.

DOJ revealed the details in a court filing Tuesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed with Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in FOIA research revolving around the policing of dissent. Shapiro and I both filed FOIA requests with the FBI after Hastings’s death for any records the agency may have on the reporter. When the FBI failed to respond our records requests within the 20 business day timeframe as required by law and Shapiro’s request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days we sued.

Get the rest here.


August 16, 2013 11:18 AM

From the Washington Post:  The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy. Without taking drastic steps, it also cannot check the veracity of the government’s assertions that the violations its staff members report are unintentional mistakes.

“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post ...

Walton’s comments came in response to internal government records obtained by The Post showing that National Security Agency staff members in Washington overstepped their authority on spy programs thousands of times per year.

Get the rest here.



August 16, 2013 10:26 AM

Press release from Center for Media and Democracy:  The Center for Media and Democracy filed a letter with the Texas Attorney General on Thursday refuting efforts by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to declare itself immune from the state's open records law. Texas is the first known state where ALEC has formally asked an Attorney General for an exemption from sunshine-in-government laws, and it marks a new low in the organization's attempts to advance its legislative agenda in secret and avoid public accountability for facilitating special interest influence. 

“You cannot just create a special private club between lobbyists and lawmakers and then claim your communications with legislators cannot be disclosed to the public under state sunshine laws,” said Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy/, “Allowing this would only increase the power of special interests to secretly influence officials elected to represent real people.”

ALEC has recently begun stamping its documents with a "disclaimer" asserting that materials like meeting agendas and model legislation are not subject to any state's open records law. Because of that disclaimer, on July 17, Rep. Stephanie Klick asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion about whether she was required to comply with CMD's open records request for ALEC-related materials.

Visit PRWatch for the full release and read the letter in its entirety here (248KB PDF).


August 16, 2013 8:57 AM

From  The most recent congressional threat to the free press in the United States comes from California Democrat  U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

In a proposed amendment to a media shield law being considered by Congress, Feinstein writes that only paid journalists should be given protections from prosecution for what they say or write.  The language in her proposal is raising concerns from First Amendment advocates because it seems to leave out bloggers and other nontraditional forms of journalism that have proliferated in recent years thanks to the Internet.

“It rubs me the wrong way that the government thinks it should be in the business of determining who should be considered a journalist,” said Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the Missouri School of Journalism.

But on the other hand, Bunting said, there is a great need for federal shield law in light of recent attempts by the U.S. Justice Department to force journalists to give up information about confidential sources.

Visit for the rest.


August 16, 2013 8:34 AM

From NFOIC:  A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

Indy district seeks records on takeover of schools

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders filed a public records request Thursday seeking information on the 2011 takeover of four schools amid questions about the integrity of the state's A-F school grading formula. IPS Board of Commissioners President Diane Arnold called for a review of the decisions that led the state to give control of the schools to charter operators after they were consistently found to be "failing." ... The grading system has been under fire since The Associated Press published emails last month showing former schools chief Tony Bennett oversaw changes to the formula to ensure a top Republican donor's school received an 'A'. Bennett subsequently resigned as Florida's education commissioner.


Wyoming schools superintendent questions state's response time in public records request

The first few thousand state email correspondences requested last month by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill were released from Gov. Matt Mead’s office earlier this week. Hill and her attorney argue the response from the state -- which estimated fulfilling Hill's public records request would take months and require combing through some 80,000 documents -- has been sluggish.

Also see: Cindy Hill narrows public records request


Editorial: FOIA records price reflects poorly on Hilton Head Island

Little seems reasonable about Hilton Head Island’s bill of up to $13,000 to produce public documents. That’s the cost estimate put on a documents request from island businessman Skip Hoagland, who is suing the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. The documents sought are related to the accommodations tax money the town gives the chamber. Town officials say they’re trying to cover the cost of fulfilling the request, which they say will require multiple staffers to sift through thousands of documents in several databases and archives.


Slashing the cost of FOIA requests in Michigan

State lawmakers could be taking up a bill that would make getting information easier from public entities. House Bill 4001 limits the costs a public body can charge when someone files a request for public records under the Freedom of Information Act. “Costs associated with FOIA had grown to the point they had become a barrier to information the public was otherwise supposed to ordinarily have,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, in a statement. “If you can’t afford to get it, you obviously can’t read it..."


Court sides mostly with University of Illinois Springfield in FOIA dispute

A state appellate court has upheld the majority of a circuit court ruling that limits the disclosure of documents relating to the resignations of former University of Illinois Springfield coaches and a $200,000 settlement with a student-athlete in 2009. The 4th District Appellate Court found that all but a few documents withheld by UIS, including witness statements about an incident during a spring 2009 softball trip to Florida, were exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. ... Last fall, Jersey County Circuit Judge Eric Pistorius, who was appointed to hear the case in Sangamon County, ordered the release of 12 pages of documents, while ruling that other documents he had reviewed were protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or were used in a deliberative process and therefore exempt from FOIA disclosure.


Judge orders WVU Urgent Care to comply with FOIA request

MORGANTOWN – A Monongalia County judge has ruled that West Virginia University Medical Corporation is a public body and must respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. Monongalia Circuit Court Judge Phillip D. Gaujot made his ruling Aug. 6 in Monongalia County General Hospital’s lawsuit against WVU Medical Corporation, doing business as University Health Associates. A year ago, Mon General Hospital submitted a FOIA request to WVUMC, seeking documents related to WVUMC’s relocation of its urgent care center to Suncrest Towne Centre. ... WVUMC is a nonprofit that supports the clinical practice of physicians employed by the WVU School of Medicine. It denied Mon General’s FOIA request on Aug. 24.


Exploring official corruption, records in New Mexico

New Mexico has had its share of government corruption scandals in recent years. Former state Treasurers Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil and former state Senate Democratic leader Manny Aragon are among those who have been convicted and sent to prison. The scandals have helped contribute to a perception by New Mexicans that government here is among the most corrupt in the nation. The 2013 Garrity Perception Survey of New Mexicans found that state officials are among the least trusted people, even less trusted than lawyers and journalists. A new study suggests that the effective use of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act may also be contributing to the public perception of a high level of government corruption in New Mexico.


NY Safe Act requires Onondaga County to release many pistol permit holders' names, state official says

The same law that lets pistol permit holders keep their names private might also require Onondaga County to make public the names of up to 40,000 permit holders. Robert Freeman, the state's top open government official, said today a provision of the NY Safe Act adopted in January would require the county to release the names of permit holders who have not filed forms asking for privacy. Sheriff Kevin Walsh said the county has 40,000 to 50,000 pistol permit holders. About 10,000 of those have filed papers asking that their names not be made public, he said.


August 16, 2013 8:14 AM

From USA Today:  After years of government denials, the CIA is acknowledging in newly declassified documents the existence of Area 51, the mysterious site in central Nevada that has spawned top-secret tools, weapons and not a few UFO conspiracies.

George Washington University's National Security Archive obtained a CIA history of the U-2 spy plane program through a [FOIA] request and released it Thursday.

National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson reviewed the history in 2002, but all mentions of Area 51 had been redacted.

Richelson says he requested the history again in 2005 and received a version a few weeks ago with mentions of Area 51 restored.

Visit USA Today for the rest.


August 16, 2013 8:01 AM

From New Mexico Foundation for Open Government:  Five recipients were selected by FOG Board members to receive the organization’s top award for open government. The award, which has been given since 2002, honors NM FOG co-founder and longtime Board member William S. Dixon. Dixon was an attorney and leading defender of the First Amendment and public rights under the New Mexico Open Meetings Act (OMA) and Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).

“The struggle against any culture of secrecy is a lifelong fight that many appreciate yet few actually wage,” NM FOG’s Dixon Awards Chairwoman, Kyla Thompson, said. “When you’re in it for the long haul, you’d better have a sharp intellect and a great sense of humor. Bill Dixon had both. We celebrate his memory and we celebrate those who continue the fight in new and innovative ways. Their perseverance benefits us all, and serves as beacon for democracy through good government in a rapidly changing world.”

The awardees will be honored by NM FOG at its annual awards ceremony on October 2, 2013, at the Embassy Suites, ABQ. This year’s speaker will be Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a syndicated columnist with the Washington Writers Group and columnist with the ABQ Journal.

Visit NMFOG for more details about the award and the banquet.


New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds.


August 15, 2013 12:51 PM

From IT News Online:  Appallicious co-founder and CEO Yo Yoshida accepted the Exemplary Leadership Award from the Center for Digital Government last week at the Center's seventh annual Industry Summit, for his work with open data in San Francisco and across the country.

Yo was recognized for his efforts to revise San Francisco's open data legislation and the development of acclaimed civic apps for San Francisco. His company, Appallicious, created San Francisco's Rec & Park app, featured by the U.S. Department of Energy, and named one of the 7 open data apps every city should have by Mashable. Appallicious also developed the new Neighborhood Score app, which was launched by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at the US Conference of Mayors in June.

Get the rest here.


August 15, 2013 12:38 PM

From It's been almost 50 years since the Freedom of Information Act's enactment and accessing information at the federal, state and local level has almost turned into a document lottery.

Over the past few days we have been breaking down what to expect when sending a response and today we take a better look at the difference between federal and state/local agencies.

Analyzing 907 completed MuckRock requests, we found state and local agencies were 20 percent more likely to complete requests in the first 30 days as compared to federal agencies.

But that quicker response comes with a major drawback. Over 70 percent of requests sent to state and local agencies by MuckRock users, were told there were no responsive documents . . . States might be quicker to complete requests because only around 18 percent of the over 2000 requests they have received from our users have been successful in getting documents.

Get the rest from


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