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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March 15, 2016 11:05 PM

New England First Amendment Coalition will be joining open government advocates for the next seven days to celebrate the 11th annual Sunshine Week. 

This national campaign is an initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of transparency and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

The celebration comes less than a month after NEFAC hosted its New England First Amendment Awards, an annual luncheon to honor those who are fighting on behalf of that basic democratic right. Continue...

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March 15, 2016 10:58 PM

Journalists and First Amendment advocates faced discouraging news last week when VICE News reporter Jason Leopold pulled back the curtain on secret attempts to hamstring open records laws in the United States. 

Leopold, who's been hailed by The New York Times and others for his skill at prying secrets from the government, disclosed that the Obama administration worked behind the scenes to torpedo a bill that would have sped and streamlined public records requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

His scoop — ironically scored through a FOIA request — showed that the White House and the Department of Justice worked to undermine the passage of the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014, which initially passed with bipartisan support but ultimately died in the legislature. Continue...

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March 15, 2016 10:53 PM

More than 40 organizations and individuals committed to government openness and accountability sent a letter thanking Senators Grassley, Leahy and Cornyn for their authorship of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 (S.337), and urging the earliest possible passage of the bill.

The FOIA Improvement Act has received overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle and from the openness community, and includes necessary measures to enable public oversight that is critical to ensuring government accountability.

Importantly, the letter points out, the FOIA Improvement Act would strengthen the existing law in a number of ways, including: codifying the presumption of openness for future administrations; harnessing technology to improve the FOIA process; limiting, to a period of 25 years, the ability of agencies to keep internal deliberations confidential; and increasing the effectiveness of the FOIA by strengthening the Office of Government Information Services. Continue...

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March 15, 2016 10:46 PM

Associated Press General Counsel Karen Kaiser today urged lawmakers to enact bipartisan legislation now before the U.S. Senate to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and make it work better.

In testimony delivered to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, Kaiser detailed the many problems journalists and the public face when seeking access to public documents.

“Non-responsiveness is the norm. The reflex of most agencies is to withhold information, not to release, and often there is no recourse for a requester other than pursuing costly litigation,” Kaiser said. “This is a broken system that needs reform. Simply stated, government agencies should not be able to avoid the transparency requirements of the law in such continuing and brazen ways.”

Kaiser, who spoke on behalf of AP and The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of media associations promoting open government, said the legislation would “result in a more informed citizenry and a more transparent and accountable government." Continue...

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March 14, 2016 10:37 PM

When Florida’s public records law was approved 40 some years ago, people were still using typewriters and rotary dial telephones.

If you wanted a public record, you got a piece of paper or maybe lots of pieces of paper. Technology has changed all of that and has presented a challenge for members of the public who want to know what their government officials are up to and local governments that want to avoid violating the law.

During Sunshine Week, reporters from newspapers all over Florida are looking at one aspect of the technological changes: texting. Continue...

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March 14, 2016 10:29 PM

What was billed as a celebratory kickoff sounded more like the somber briefing of an embattled and encircled force listing off perils of its situation. Such were the warnings given during the League of Women Voters and The News-Press Media Group’s Open Government and You public forum about the “erosion” of the public’s right to information. 

The event heralded the start of Sunshine Week in Florida as news organizations and open government groups use James Madison’s birthday as the rallying point of the public’s right to access government and public information through use of open records, open meetings and sunshine laws.

Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said Madison was father of open government and quoted him, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Continue...

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March 14, 2016 10:25 PM

Year after year, the state’s open-records law cracks a door to the activities of government that might otherwise stay secret. Information gleaned with its help has a power to change lives for the better and make governments more accountable.

But some officials continue to ignore the S.C. Freedom of Information Act or find ways around it.

When it has worked, the law has helped expose faults in the system for investigating police shootings and lifted a veil hiding shoddy care of foster children.

While these are examples of how The Post and Courier has used the FOIA over the past year, it remains a tool for all people to get information that agencies are not eager to share. Today is the start of Sunshine Week, a time that advocates use to celebrate triumphs and address shortcomings of open-government laws and to teach people how to use them. Continue...

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March 14, 2016 10:19 PM

For an ongoing series on race in Colorado, Rocky Mountain PBS investigative reporter Katie Wilcox requested five years of records from six cities on when police stop people for suspicious behavior and other reasons.

Grand Junction provided information from its field interviews at no charge. Pueblo billed Wilcox $20, Colorado Springs asked for $88 and Fort Collins quoted her $60. Denver doesn’t keep the data by race.

Aurora’s price? $290.85. And that’s for 1,151 printed pages from a database. Not an Excel spreadsheet like Wilcox received from other cities. If she wants to inspect all 22,309 reports, she’ll have to pay the city $111,510.40 to cover the cost of copies and the redaction of any confidential information. Continue...

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March 14, 2016 10:15 PM

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Archana Vemulapalli, D.C.'s chief technology officer, will discuss government transparency and open data policy at the fifth annual Sunshine Week program co-hosted by the D.C. Open Government Coalition at the National Press Club March 15 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

The event is open and free to all, but space is limited and only a few seats are still available. A reception will follow the program. 

Follow the link to register at www.dcogc.org. Continue...

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March 11, 2016 10:58 PM

Colorado Sen. John Kefalas and Rep. Dan Pabon deserve thanks from all Coloradans for their valiant, but unsuccessful, effort to guarantee the public's right to inspect its records.

These two legislators introduced Senate Bill 37, which would have clarified that Coloradans enjoy the right to obtain copies of public records in the same digitized format in which government maintains those records. Our tax dollars pay public servants to carry out the people's business, including creating and keeping public records — our records — on our behalf.

These public employees are the custodians of our records, and the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) says so. Indeed, CORA provides us all the right to access those public records; not merely the data or information contained in them, but the very writings we have paid our government officials to create and maintain for us. Continue...

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March 11, 2016 10:54 PM

In advance of Sunshine Week, Wisconsin Watchdog and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty are pleased to announce a victory for open records and open government.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has agreed to settle an open records case by turning over unredacted copies of requested incident reports and paying WILL’s attorney fees and costs.

“Law enforcement agencies that choose to redact information like this are making a big mistake,” said Tom Kamenick, deputy counsel and open government specialist at WILL. Continue...

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March 11, 2016 10:51 PM

New Mexico legislative leaders rarely, if ever, communicate by work email and keep private the details of breakfast and dinner appointments with industry and special interest groups, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

The Legislature’s four top leaders provided their appointment calendars and hundreds of emails from the first week in February in response to the records request. Nearly all of the emails came from constituents; only three were outgoing messages.

A small share of the work-related calendar appointments included names of individuals, and none described the content of conversations. Continue...

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