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

June 14, 2013 10:04 AM

From  The Freedom Foundation is holding a Principles to Action conference this weekend focused on “winning in politics while standing on principle.”

The non-partisan, pro-free market group is holding a conference at the Tacoma Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The conference includes speeches from legislators, policy experts and topics include everything from big labor to federalism and gun rights.

The foundation is also offering a discount to college students and is hoping to get the word out, “especially to liberty-loving students,” according to an email from the foundation. Regular registration, which includes breakfast, lunch and breakout workshops, is $75 but students get in for $25.

The Freedom Foundation is a member of NFOIC. --eds


June 14, 2013 9:42 AM

From Bloomberg Businessweek:  The secret U.S. court that rules on surveillance requests from intelligence agencies said it won’t stand in the way of an activist group’s lawsuit seeking the release of one of its nonpublic opinions.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, in his capacity as presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ruled June 12 that copies of the opinion in the possession of the government being sought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation are subject to review under the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA.


June 14, 2013 9:36 AM

From the First Amendment Coalition:  First came news accounts of the government’s use of armed drones in the targeted killing of terrorists abroad. Then came the revelations about government surveillance programs, breathtaking in their scale, tapping into data on phone calls, emails, internet searches and more.

These activities are, in fact, linked.

The use of drones to target America’s enemies represents the fruition of technological evolution in weapon accuracy. While America’s previous military conflicts have been characterized by military strategies that often maximized enemy casualties (think of the “body counts” during the Vietnam War), the technology of drones makes possible the highly discriminate targeting of selected individuals, with minimal civilian casualties (compared to alternative, and less sophisticated, weapon systems).

US intelligence gathering, also because of advances in technology, has evolved in the opposite direction. Before data mining, and especially before the end of the Cold War, intelligence gathering was narrowly focused on selected institutions or individuals. America knew who its enemies were; the objective of espionage operations, from wiretaps to infiltration by American spies, was to find out what they were up to: whom they were communicating with, their capacities and plans.

In recent years, by contrast, the focus has shifted to intercepting and analyzing mountains of data in order to discern patterns of activity that could lead to the identification of individual enemies. Intelligence gathering has evolved from the penetration of known groups or individuals to the sifting and mining of massively “big data”–potentially including information on all US citizens, or all foreign customers of Google, Facebook, et al.–in order to identify individuals or groups that are plotting attacks against Americans.

The logic of warfare and intelligence have flipped, each becoming the mirror image of the other. Warfare has shifted from the scaling of military operations to the selective targeting of individual enemies. Intelligence gathering has shifted from the targeting of known threats to wholesale data mining for the purpose of finding terrorists.

Please visit the First Amendment Coalition for the full article. Also, see Obama speech impacts California drone lawsuit for more coverage.

Peter Scheer is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. The First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds.


June 14, 2013 9:29 AM

From Twin Cities Daily Planet:  Since its earliest days, the Obama administration has been circumspect about officially confirming the existence of its drone-centric counter-terrorism operations. Despite extensive press coverage of the subject (as well as apparently sanctioned leaks and carefully crafted public statements) the administration avoided officially acknowledging its drone program for over four years.

In fact, while Attorney General Holder and other officials made couched references to such an operation, the administration fought off multiple FOIA requests for legal opinions related to the program in federal court. Such requests came from the ACLU, the New York Times, PRM, and the California-based First Amendment Coalition (FAC).

The California First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds


June 14, 2013 9:24 AM

From Government Technology:  In recent years, many state and local governments have put effort into open data projects that would inspire developers to create apps and find ways to use public data to bring value to their communities. So news of PRISM, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) online spying tool leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, angered a lot of people and began a debate about the role of open data.

Most people don’t like being spied on, but today the extent of PRISM’s capabilities is cloudy. Some reports say PRISM, which costs $20 million annually to operate, creates a copy of absolutely everything online. Not everyone agrees that this is the case, as it would require cooperation from companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and Apple, whose officials have come forward denying cooperation. But others point out that the same law that may require those companies to cooperate with the NSA may prohibit them from coming clean about their involvement.


June 14, 2013 9:19 AM

Opinion from Nextgov:  Perhaps it’s the constrained fiscal reality, punctuated by threats of government shut-downs. Or maybe it’s the ideological wars in Washington, playing out most recently in the battle over privacy and security sparked by revelations about the PRISM surveillance program. Whatever the reasons, the public sector in the 21st century gets a bad rap. As Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media, has said, government is seen by legions of citizens from coast to coast as a bloated and inefficient ATM that takes in taxes and delivers mediocre services in return. Even a muscular liberal like Paul Krugman of The New York Times calls the federal bureaucracy “an insurance company with an army.”

But a new movement, spurred by digital and social activism, is taking root to renovate and redefine the public sector.


June 12, 2013 5:11 PM

From Legalbrief Today:  The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that the US Trade Representative (USTR) can legally withhold classified documents regarding free trade negotiations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), says a Jurist report.

US District Court Judge Richard Roberts ruled last year that the document should be released to the Centre for International Environmental Law, finding that there was no reason to justify withholding it. The Appeals Court, however, reversed the order and gave deference to the USTR's judgment after determining that forcing disclosure of the classified position paper 'could limit the flexibility of US negotiators' in the future. The report notes that US courts have dealt with many FOIA cases recently, on both state and federal levels. In April the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in McBurney v Young that Virginia has the right to exclude non-residents from accessing state records under its FOIA. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in March reversed a lower court ruling which allowed the CIA to refuse to confirm or deny whether it has records pertaining to the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists. The case arose from a FOIA claim filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requesting records on the CIA's drone programme regarding the legal justification for using drones and information concerning civilian casualties. In March 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Milner v. Department of the Navy that the government may not withhold certain information under the FOIA.

June 12, 2013 5:05 PM

From Wisconsin State Journal:  The state’s Republican-led budget committee may have done no greater favor for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism than voting to evict it from two tiny offices in UW-Madison’s Vilas Hall.

Since the early morning, back-room decision surfaced last week, the center has received the kind of national attention – from media and political sources of all ideological stripes – only winning a Pulitzer Prize might have generated.

But that’s the good news. The bad news is that the decision, labeled petty and vindictive by conservative talker Charlie Sykes and yet to be fully explained to the public, is just the latest in a series of high-profile attempts by public officials to stifle a free and open media.


And just last week, prior to its annual convention, the state Democratic Party refused to allow Capital Times reporter Jack Craver to cover the event because of alleged journalistic misdeeds. Maybe he failed to treat the party and its leaders with the kind of kid gloves and deference expected of a political reporter from a self-proclaimed “progressive” newspaper. Continue to read ...

Pitsch is a State Journal assistant city editor and president of the Madison pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

June 12, 2013 2:06 PM

From Examiner:  While President Barack Obama pushed hard on Tuesday for support of his immigration agenda and the proposed legislation by the so-called "gang of eight" U.S. senators, an "Inside the Beltway" watchdog group announced it obtained documents that revealed the Obama administration's lawlessness in complying with current immigration enforcement laws and regulations.

The well-respected, public-interest group Judicial Watch reported on Tuesday that documents it acquired recently through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) "abandoned required background checks in late 2012."


June 12, 2013 2:02 PM

From IT News Online:  STERLING, Va., June 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The New York City Comptroller announced at the Personal Democracy Forum press conference that Checkbook NYC, a financial transparency tool developed by REI Systems, is now open-sourced and available for download by other city and state governments.

Checkbook NYC is an online financial transparency website that provides up-to-date information about New York City's revenues, expenditures, contracts, payroll, and budget. The website provides unprecedented access to NYC government financial data, enabling citizens to track how NYC spends its $70 billion annual budget. Built on the Drupal open source content management platform, Checkbook NYC's data warehouse is updated daily, contains more than 50 million financial transactions, and is growing at a rate of approximately two million transactions per month. A comprehensive national study, conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), ranked Checkbook NYC as one of the top transparency websites in the country. "We built this for a simple reason: shining a bright light on government spending helps root out waste and ensures that tax dollars are spent wisely," said NYC Comptroller, John C. Liu.


June 12, 2013 1:53 PM

From The Republic:  DURANGO, Colorado — Durango officials are asking the City Council to ban people from photographing public records to save money, forcing city workers to search out documents without covering their expenses.

New technology is allowing people with smartphones and tablets to photograph the official documents they request, and not ask for copies to be made. Those records can take city workers days to find and make available, which is required by Colorado open record laws.


June 12, 2013 1:48 PM  A group tasked with finding improvements to the state’s charter school system may have violated open meetings laws, according to a report from the Attorney General’s Office.

That has drawn the ire of open government advocates and legislators who say a handful of power-players are crafting major education policy behind closed doors.


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