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

January 7, 2015 10:47 AM

It’s a pretty simple question for a public official: “What exactly do you do with your time?” Sometimes, the best way to answer that question is to obtain the official’s calendar, through the state’s open records law.

In my work as a reporter, I’ve done this for the state treasurer and his staff, who work for an office with few official duties. I’ve also used the monthly calendars of Gov. Scott Walker to plot his travel and track his day-to-day meetings.

So when I wanted a better understanding of how the duties of Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen and Chief Administrative Officer Jim Amodeo overlap, I asked to see their calendars. Continue>>>

January 5, 2015 6:57 AM

The Des Moines Register received a call last week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Freedom of Information Act Office, which processes requests for public documents.

The call was a sobering reminder of the pace at which the federal government handles requests for information:

"This is Brandon Lancey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the FOIA Office. I am calling to see if you are still interested in — well, actually you made a request a while back about Lincare Holdings Inc., regarding their annual reports." Continue>>>

January 5, 2015 6:56 AM

A bill set for action early next year in the state Senate would require coroners to release autopsy reports related to the cause of death in cases such as that of Tucker Hipps, the Clemson student who died during a fraternity run in September.

State Sen. Larry Martin said he pre-filed the bill in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that came out after the legislative session ended last summer that found that autopsy reports are "medical records" and thus exempt from disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis cited the ruling in refusing to release autopsy reports, including a toxicology report, on Hipps, who died of head injuries after falling from a bridge across Lake Hartwell. Continue>>>

January 5, 2015 6:54 AM

When making New Year’s resolutions for 2015, be sure to add learning about Ohio’s Sunshine Laws.

The Sunshine Laws appropriately refer to the rules and regulations for public bodies when conducting public meetings, as well as the public records laws.

But laws can be complicated things. Even though the Attorney General’s office will give you a “Yellow Book,” as the free publication documenting the laws is called, it’s not always easy to know what your local council or school board should and shouldnt’ do. Continue>>>


January 5, 2015 6:52 AM

We all say we want transparent government, but each legislative session, numerous bills are introduced to limit what you can learn about government operations. Every week, legitimate requests for information are rejected or ignored. Bit by bit, exemption by exemption, governments advocate for less public access, not more.

That’s why it is refreshing to see the Port Townsend City Council (WA) actually making it easier for people to access information and participate in government deliberations.
Jefferson Healthcare Help Wanted

Since 2009, agendas, meeting materials, and video recordings of City Council meetings have been viewable on the city’s website. Most recently, using the same online system, the city made it easier for people to become informed. Citizens now can send messages to the full council, leave comments that become a part of the public record, and archive comments for future review by decision makers. Continue>>>

January 5, 2015 6:50 AM

Open data has found the most innovation at the local government level. While not taking away from the efforts of and the state initiatives, local data has more impact on the day to day lives of civil society. A wealth of city and county public data exists, but accessing it can sometimes be time consuming. Now, thanks to a new local government partnership, open data in Durham is just months away from becoming a reality.

The City of Durham and Durham County governments in North Carolina are embarking on an open data partnership that will lay the groundwork for businesses, non-profits, journalists, universities, and residents to access and use the wealth of public data available between the two government organizations, while becoming even more transparent to the residents of Durham.

Durham City and County is taking a social sustainability approach toward their open data initiative. There are several categories of data that fit in with the assessment, gap analysis and open data roadmap toward creating a sustainable Durham: Continue>>>

January 5, 2015 6:49 AM

Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Hal Harper has spent every workday for the last two months dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests from a convicted murderer.

Harper, who started two months ago as one of the department’s Freedom Of Information Act officers, said that Daniel Cleary recently sent a request for 2,500 pages of documents and a DVD of his police interrogations.

The Illinois General Assembly in early December passed an amendment to the state’s FOIA law that deals with voluminous requests. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill, after which the General Assembly voted to override the veto. The new changes allow public bodies to charge for time, materials, transportation and other costs associated with providing material in FOIA filings. Continue>>>

December 30, 2014 11:23 AM

Richmond officials are looking to open up more city data to the public by making information available on government spending, permits, crime and real estate.

Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District, introduced an ordinance this month that would require the city to publish its payment register on the city’s website.

The administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones also has been working on an open-data project through the finance and information technology departments, according to the mayor’s office. Continue>>>

December 30, 2014 11:21 AM

It’s an unusual situation when a governmental agency releasing information to the public is a negative thing from a journalistic perspective, but the manner in which the Tallahassee Police Department did so this week is highly questionable. The department has been under plenty of public fire this year thanks to reports from Fox Sports and The New York Times alleging that they hindered investigations against Florida State football players, and an ESPN freedom of information request was set to bring forth plenty of other documents that portrayed the department in a bad light.

The TPD elected to go on a counteroffensive, damaging what would have been a powerful ESPN exclusive by releasing those documents themselves (on Christmas Eve, a low-traffic day if there ever was one). That’s problematic in its own right, especially when you add in the revelation that they acted to rectify a mistake (not testing DNA in a rape case) before releasing the documents, but even more concerning is how the department included the cell phone number of ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne (who submitted the FOI) in that release, potentially subjecting her to harassment from angry Seminoles fans. Continue>>>

December 30, 2014 11:19 AM

Along with police departments in New York City and Los Angeles, Seattle police are preparing to test body cams on officers in the field. In an attempt to find a balance between releasing footage and redacting private details, Seattle police held a hackathon of Friday.

Discussion around whether law enforcement agents should wear body cams has surged in the months since the shooting of Michael Brown. And as funding comes through for pilot programs, it's increasingly important to answer question about how these devices will be implemented.

As GeekWire reports, about 80 people—including developers, community members, and law enforcement agents—attended the Seattle Police hackathon. The goal was to work on techniques for redacting things captured in streamed dashboard or body cam video such as people's faces or license plate numbers. The hackathon was specifically looking to address these topics as they relate to Washington’s privacy laws, but the work could be relevant all over the country. Continue>>>

December 30, 2014 11:18 AM

The National Security Agency has a lot to keep track of – all those electronic communications and other signals, mostly innocuous but some of which are critical to national security, collectively known as “signals intelligence” or SIGINT.

In the post-9/11 world of terrorist threats, unconventional war, and rapidly advancing technology, sorting through and making sense of all that SIGINT becomes increasingly critical.

So does protecting the civil liberties of individual Americans, whose private and personal information – from cell phone records to email communication – may get vacuumed up (or specifically targeted) in the NSA’s massive electronic spying efforts. Continue>>>

ACLU, eavesdropping, NSA
December 30, 2014 11:14 AM

The Associated Press announced Thursday it will create “a team of state government specialists” in an effort to bolster coverage of statehouses across America.

The new team will “be a resource to our statehouse reporters looking for help broadening the scope of their reporting,” Brian Carovillano, AP’s managing editor for U.S. news, wrote in a brief Q and A accompanying the announcement. They will also work with a projects team that will turn out “ambitious enterprise” journalism on state government.

“The message here is that state government coverage is essential to AP and its members, and we are doubling down on that commitment, which should benefit the entire cooperative,” Carovillano wrote. Continue>>>

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