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

March 18, 2013 11:56 AM


Look at City Attorney Adam Altman's desk, which has stacks of folders and documents pertaining to every city department, and you likely could ask to see any of it instantly.

"The only stuff that's tough is the stuff that takes time to assemble," he said.

He said he rarely ever handles Freedom of Information requests made to the city of Aberdeen. That's because there are virtually no formal requests made, save for some from the media.

March 18, 2013 11:52 AM


You have a right to know. This is Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate access to government and to remind officials that their records and meetings are your records and meetings.

Your tax dollars have funded government, and thus you have the right see what city, county, school, township, watershed, state and federal officials see. Nearly everything from court files to police reports to marriage licenses is available for your inspection. You have a right to attend public meetings, even the ones they want to call workshops or retreats so they can get out of the public view.

It’s not a perfect world. From lawmakers to bureaucrats to local leaders, not everyone grasps the concept of open government. Many simply want the public to trust that they are doing their jobs and to go away and leave them be. It is how big matters such as campaign finance or simple matters such as Albert Lea sewer rates can become so convoluted and difficult for the public to grasp — because the information is either limited or filtered or disputed.

March 15, 2013 2:40 PM


Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practice. However, she also stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman, whose organization is representing a telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”


March 15, 2013 1:50 PM

From Columbia Journalism Review:

Since President Obama came to the White House in 2009, federal regulatory and science agencies have taken measurable steps—on paper, at least—toward improving their relationships with the press, according to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

On Friday, UCS, a nonprofit advocacy organization, released a report card grading the media policies of 15 agencies and two departments, from the Bureau of Land Management to the US Geological Survey. The group had issued a similar assessment the year before Obama took office, giving fairly low marks across the board, but the latest evaluation found that, “Many agencies’ media policies have shown significant improvement since 2008.”

March 15, 2013 1:45 PM

Opinion from

North Carolina’s open government laws are good. But enforcement is weak.

A Republican state senator from Wilmington is trying to add muscle, proposing a bill to make it a misdemeanor for public officials to unlawfully close meetings or deny access to records.

“This is the public’s record,” Thom Goolsby, an attorney, said at a committee meeting where the bill was considered Tuesday. “This is a public meeting and when you close the meeting down or deny the public record, there should be a requirement — something on the officials who do that rather than just saying, ‘We’re just going to let you file a lawsuit.’ ”

March 15, 2013 1:39 PM


CHARLESTON - Currently in West Virginia, the names and addresses of concealed weapons licensees is public information. But a bill introduced to the House of Delegates on Tuesday could change that.

HB2911 proposes to exempt from the Freedom of Information Act records pertaining to the issuance, renewal, expiration, suspension or revocation of a license to carry a concealed weapon, according to the legislation.

Delegate Mike Folk, R-Berkeley, who is the bill's lead sponsor, said he wrote the legislation in response to a New York newspaper's decision to publish the names and addresses of area gun owners last year. The newspaper obtained the information by way of New York's Freedom of Information Law requests, according to media reports.

March 15, 2013 1:36 PM


This is Sunshine Week, the one week in the year when open-government advocates celebrate the concept that government should operate in the open and that secrecy in government is bad government.


Earle Duncan Getchell Jr. is Virginia's solicitor general, the lawyer who represents our state when legal disputes go before the high courts. Last month, Getchell was arguing that Virginia's Freedom of Information Act can be invoked only by Virginians and out-of-staters are out of luck.

The case was before the U.S. Supreme Court and, at one point during the ubiquitous sparring with the justices, Getchell remarked that Freedom of Information laws were "very much the fad." I think I know what fads are. They are trivial matters. CB radios were a fad. The hula hoop was a fad, as was the Rubik's Cube.

March 15, 2013 1:32 PM

From The Progressive Pulse:

Public records in the North Carolina offer a chance to peer into the depths of state government, and see what is and what isn’t working.

It’s what I use daily in the work I do here as an investigative reporter at N.C. Policy Watch. Access to public records have proven instrumental in reporting pieces I’ve done about the (now former) state legislator who benefitted substantially from a federally- funded non-profit he ran, a Winston-Salem public charter school that recruited basketball players from around the world and a trip to Florida that an educational reform lobbying group paid for a group of lawmakers to go on last year.

This week being Sunshine Week, the annual check-in to see how open and transparent governments are, I thought it a good a time as any to wax poetic about the virtues of transparency.

March 15, 2013 1:27 PM


WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are now posting their stock transactions online on a regular basis to comply with a law enacted 11 months ago to curtail illegal insider trading by lawmakers and their staffs.

Among the 13 House members and two senators in New Jersey’s congressional delegation, three have filed “periodic transaction reports” since the law took effect: Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican, and Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat.


The new postings are part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which became law last April. They’re also an example of the open information that is promoted as part of Sunshine Week, an annual media initiative to encourage increased public access to government records.

March 15, 2013 1:22 PM

From FCW:

The Center for Effective Government on March 13 released a report on the government's Freedom of Information Act response efforts, finding that agencies processed more FOIA in 2012 than in previous years, and that backlogs have declined even as the number of requests has grown. But more requests are being redacted, the report found, and the cost of FOIA processing varied widely from agency to agency.

The data "suggests there may some economies of scale in processing FOIA requests," the report states, but volume alone does not explain the variations -- the State Department spent more than four times as much to process each request as did the National Archives and Records Administration, which responded to roughly the same number of inquiries.

March 15, 2013 1:17 PM


A recent New Jersey Watchdog investigation revealed 45 “retired” school chiefs had returned to the public payroll, double-dipping millions of dollars a year from pension funds and local education budgets.

By using a loophole in state law, the retirees landed lucrative, post-retirement jobs as interim, or temporary, superintendents. One example was a superintendent paid $108,230 a year for a three-day work week – in addition to her state pension checks of $131,964 per annum as a retired superintendent.

“It’s the way the system is set up,” said the double-dipper. “I took advantage of it.”

March 15, 2013 1:13 PM

From Nextgov:

Crowing about the success of a program or initiative doesn’t mean much if you don’t have hard numbers to back up those claims. That’s a lesson every field learns eventually and most have to relearn on a regular basis.

With that in mind I wanted to draw attention to a proposal from the organization Global Integrity submitted as part of the Knight Foundation’s open government News Challenge. Global Integrity’s goal is not to create a new open government app but to embark on a comprehensive assessment of government transparency programs that already exist so governments and open government advocates can move beyond “increasingly stale stories and one-off narratives” and start working toward a genuine cost-benefit analysis of open government programs.

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