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 3, 2014 9:27 PM

A second horrifying video has been released of a beheading of an American journalist. The disturbing yet professionally produced video will provide additional clues for experts to use to gain information about the executioner now being called “Jihadi John” and his whereabouts.

At the end of the video, the terrorists revealed a British citizen on his knees and wearing an orange jumpsuit, raising concerns he will be the next victim of the extremists. The name of this man is not being revealed at the request of the captive’s family

It is believed that up to 20 western hostages are being held by ISIS including two American aid workers and at least three British citizens. Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:26 PM

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the town of Warren for allegedly violating the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

Joelle Sylvia Esq., an attorney with the law firm Kelly & Mancini, made an APRA request on March 11 to the town of Warren seeking various documents. The town initially extended the time to respond to the request, but it allegedly failed to provide a response and/or the documents that were requested.

“Failure to respond to a request within the timeframe dictated by APRA is simply not acceptable,” Kilmartin said. “Given the level of education and proactive outreach by my office, there is an expectation that public bodies will comply with our open government laws. As the arbiter and watchdog for open government, I will continue to hold public bodies accountable as the citizens expect and deserve.” Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:24 PM

When state employees misbehave, does the public have a right to know who they are? Two state agencies are answering that question in different ways.

Both the state Department of Justice and Department of Natural Resources have in the recent past blacked out the names of state workers from records of disciplinary actions released to the media. The agencies claimed the public interest was “sufficiently served” by releasing these redacted records.

The jousting began in 2013 when The Associated Press requested disciplinary records for DOJ employees. The agency released the records but not the names. Earlier this year, the AP made a similar request to the DNR and got a similar result. Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:22 PM

Every so often, those people charged with conducting the public’s business should read the preamble to state of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. Other citizens ought to read it, too. It states: “The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

We mention this because at least two members of the Olympian Planning Commission – Carole Richmond and Jerry Parker -- don’t seem to understand the meaning of public service. The nonprofit Washington Coalition for Open Government recently presented its Key Award to planning commission member Judy Bardin for calling attention to a series of secret meetings between other commissioners and developers. But Richmond and Parker criticized WCOG and the award. Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:21 PM

No doubt the government’s push for more open data could drive innovation in private sector organisations, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. At the Australia 3.0 forum in Melbourne last week, a mixed group of IT professionals, government officials and heads of private companies came together to discuss how to address the main barriers preventing agencies and departments releasing more data to the public.

The elephant in the room when it comes to releasing government data is the expense of anonymising it. Departments such as human services, health and social services hold vast amounts of data but much of it is highly personal and sensitive, and costly to anonymise.

“It requires a degree of expertise, and not all agencies will have the skills to be able do that, so they might have to bring the skills in. Most agencies will not have the relevant skills to be able to understand how to anonymise the data in a sufficient, safe way to get it out there,” said Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary, digital economy, Department of Communications. Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:19 PM

Under the Protected National Security Document Act, enacted by the Obama administration in 2009 to cover the period September 2001 through January 2009, the United States Government has prohibited the release of photographs depicting 'enhanced interrogation techniques' - Torture - administered on enemy combatants taken into custody abroad by the U.S. military and/or its allied forces.
Barack Obama

This measure was taken when the Obama White House and its foreign policy implementation arm - State Department - lectures, advocates and even intimidates other countries to adopt accountability and transparency in their execution of domestic terrorism warfare often threatening to haul them before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Obama administration sponsored 2009 law ratified by the US Congress created a three-year (2009 to 2012) exemption from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>
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August 28, 2014 5:45 AM

Illinois residents will now have easy access to online information regarding mass transit employee salaries as well as safety and budget information. Citing the benefit of increased government accountability, Gov. Quinn Friday signed a bill to reform the state’s mass transit hiring policies.

Andrew Nelms is director of policy and communications for Americans for Prosperity, a group that advocates for lower taxes and government accountability. He said legislation like the bill signed Friday could be beneficial for taxpayers.

“Anytime taxpayers have access to information like this, it’s a victory,” Nelms said. “I think it’s a bonus to have greater accountability and a checks-and-balances process when we’re talking about such large sums of taxpayer dollars.” Continue>>>
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August 28, 2014 5:42 AM

The Organization of American States (OAS) will launch, on Tuesday, August 26, the virtual course "Strategies for Open Government in the Americas" for 217 officials from the region, in order to enable them to implement strategies for the consolidation of more participatory, transparent and open government.

The course will last seven weeks, and although it is aimed at public officials, it is open to the general public. Taught from the Virtual Campus of the Department for Effective Public Management of the Secretariat for Political Affairs of the OAS, the course has the support of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Latin American Centre for Development Administration (CLAD).

The above institutions agreed to promote this initiative after agreeing on the importance of promoting policies of Open Government, and given the need for public institutions of the countries of the region to understand and train their human resources in the area. Continue>>>
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August 28, 2014 5:40 AM

If you want to download court records in the United States, your first stop is probably PACER, the oft-maligned digital warehouse for public court records. Maintained by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the system charges 10 cents per page of search results within its archive, and 10 cents per actual page of court documents that are officially in the public record. It's a useful tool for attorneys, but often difficult for the average citizen to navigate and understand.

Freedom of information advocates have long criticized PACER — and tried to create some public archives outside it. But at least, for the most part, digital copies of more recent court documents were available somewhere. However, on Aug. 10, the database unceremoniously announced the removal of access to certain case files — and not just a handful, but entire categories of documents coming from five courts.

Charles Hall, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office, told The Post via e-mail that the change was made on Aug. 11 in preparation for an overhaul of the the PACER architecture, including the implementation of the next generation of the Judiciary's Case Management and Electronic Case Files System. "NextGen replaces the older CM/ECF system and provides improvements for users, including a single sign-on for PACER and NextGen," he wrote. Continue>>>
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August 28, 2014 5:38 AM

The Virginia Department of State Police has refused to disclose the types of patrol rifles and other tactical weapons and vehicles it possesses in a decision criticized by civil liberty groups and open-government advocates. The Rutherford Institute in Albemarle County, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Virginia Coalition of Open Government questioned why state police would not release basic descriptions of their taxpayer-funded firearms stock and equipment.

“Transparency in government is the basis of democratic freedom,” said John W. Whitehead, a constitutional lawyer and president of the Rutherford Institute. “If the American public is paying for it, and we’re supposedly the masters, then the servants should tell us what they have if we need to know.”

State police twice denied Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch seeking complete inventories of the department’s weapons and armored vehicles. The agency provided a partial list that included handguns, shotguns and several vehicles, but denied all the rest, citing an FOIA exemption that allows discretionary release of “specific tactical plans,” which the newspaper did not request. Continue>>>
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August 28, 2014 5:36 AM

Judge Robert Adamson ruled in favor of Attorney General Sam Olens in a lawsuit filed in June 2012 against the City of Cumming and Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt for violations of the Open Meetings Act. Judge Adamson ordered the defendants to pay $12,000 in penalties, the highest amount possible under the law. Defendants have also been ordered to pay attorney's fees in an amount to be determined at a later hearing.

“This ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” said Olens. “Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly. The essence of our democracy is that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens and that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment.”

At a Cumming City Council meeting on April 17, 2012, Mayor Gravitt demanded that citizen Nydia Tisdale cease filming the meeting and subsequently ordered her to leave the meeting. Ms. Tisdale returned to the meeting with another hand held camera and was again told to stop recording the meeting. Georgia's Open Meetings Act expressly provides that visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted. Continue>>>
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August 28, 2014 5:33 AM

Capping seven years of work, San Jose officials have adopted a slew of sunshine reforms meant to keep City Hall more open. The vast majority of the 80 or so policies have been in place for the past several years but are only now set to become law following a unanimous vote from the San Jose City Council on Tuesday. By setting the reforms into law, it binds future city leaders to follow the same guidelines used by the current administration.

But there were also some changes that slightly water down the rules, and critics again bemoaned that the council failed to adopt some of the recommendations made by the task force billed with reforming the city's open government policies.

The ordinance brings Mayor Chuck Reed's "Reed Reforms" full circle after he ran on an open government platform in 2006 following scandals from previous mayor Ron Gonzales. Reed, who is termed out of office at the end of the year. Continue>>>
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