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

November 7, 2013 2:18 PM

From Standard Newswire: WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2013 /Standard Newswire/ -- Judicial Watch announced today that on October 17, 2013, thanks to Judicial Watch litigation, the public gained access to more than 57,000 pages of previously withheld documents from the Clinton Presidential Library related to the National Taskforce on Health Care Reform, a "cabinet-level" taskforce chaired by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first term of the Bill Clinton presidency.

The release of records came more than seven years after Judicial Watch filed an April 4, 2006, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for "any and all" records pertaining to the Taskforce on Health Care Reform. On November 2, 2007, Judicial Watch was forced to file a FOIA lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration to obtain the records (Judicial Watch, Inc. v U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (No: 1:07-cv-07-1987)).

Visit Standard Newswire for more.



November 7, 2013 2:06 PM

From RT: The Federal Bureau of Investigation spent years conducting surveillance on a prominent libertarian anti-war web site, in part because the agency mistakenly believed that the activist page had tried to hack the FBI's own site, according to a new report.

FBI documents viewed by the The Guardian reveal that an investigation into was motivated by an examination of a “threat” that planned to “hack the FBI web site.” Yet the site never threatened any such thing.

Visit RT for more.


November 7, 2013 2:03 PM

From FierceGovernmentIT: The United States says it will expand open data and modernize the Freedom of Information Act as part of six new transparent government commitments made in an updated national action plan released by the White House Oct. 31.

The United States issued the commitments during the Open Government Summit in London. This year, the annual event brought together 1,000 delegates from more than 60 countries to discuss open government plans.

Visit FierceGovernmentIT for more.



November 7, 2013 1:54 PM

From Digital Journal: SACRAMENTO, CA--(Marketwired - Nov 7, 2013) - e.Republic's Center for Digital Government and the Digital Communities Program today announced the top-ranked cities in the 2013 Digital Cities Survey.

This year's top-ranked cities -- Boston; Irving, Texas; Avondale, Ariz.; and Palo Alto, Calif. -- improved transparency with open government initiatives and access to city services via mobile apps. The cities eliminated waste and enhanced service levels using agile project management, and reduced costs and improved services through advanced analytics and performance measures.

Visit Digital Journal for more.



November 7, 2013 1:48 PM

From Sunlight Foundation: The recent Open Government Partnership meetings in London have provided a good opportunity to assess the direction of our community. The latest comes from Jonathan Gray, and the title -- Open government should be about accountability and social justice, not the digital economy -- more or less speaks for itself:


I agree with Jonathan's diagnosis of distinct strains within the open government data community. But I don't think they have to be in tension. I've argued before that a big tent is beneficial to us all -- that blurring the lines between open data for accountability and open data for economic development can serve both constituencies' needs. After all, the great thing about open information is that its supply is limitless.

Visit Sunlight Foundation for more.



November 7, 2013 1:21 PM

From NFOIC: Open government groups, including NFOIC members and allies, are urging House and Senate conferees to remove provisions from the Farm Bill that provides for increased government secrecy regarding agricultural and livestock operations.

The advocates for transparency sent e-mails and made numerous calls to the offices of conference committee members. NFOIC and 16 of its member groups were among the signers of a letter that went to all conference committee members urging them to strip from the final version provisions that "unnecessarily cut off public access to a broad swath of information" that will become exempt from disclosure under the House version of the bill.

"Members of the public have a right to know about agricultural and livestock operations that affect them, including where such operations are located. This information is especially critical for people who live near or share waterways with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Yet the language included in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill (HR 2642) requires the government to withhold even basic information about the location of livestock operations," the open government groups wrote in the letter.

Please see the complete letter here (PDF/184KB).



November 7, 2013 11:18 AM

From MuckRock: The New York Police Department's animus toward Freedom of Information requests is legendary, and mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has been one of the department's most outspoken critics. As de Blasio takes the City Hall reins, transparency advocates have a tremendous opportunity. But if you want real reform, hold de Blasio to his watchdog roots.

In his current role as NYC Public Advocate, Mr. de Blasio has called out the NYPD for their inability (or unwillingness) to comply with the state's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In April, his office put out a comprehensive report that graded each city department's responsiveness to public records requests. The NYPD scored a solid "F," having failed to answer or "losing" nearly a third of FOIL requests submitted during the three-month analysis period.


When Bill de Blasio is sworn in on January 1, he will assume the authority to act on all of his recommendations for opening up NYC government to public scrutiny, and the police in particular. As mayor, de Blasio can make real the reforms he has proposed and evolve from critic to catalyst.

If you're interested in helping hold him to those promises, check out the NYPD's agency page on MuckRock and join our mailing list: MuckRock users are keeping an the NYPD's progress, and you can help.

Visit MuckRock for more.



November 6, 2013 11:09 AM

From NFOIC: COLUMBIA, Mo – Do you know which industries spend the most to influence politics in your state?

If not, or even if you think you have an idea, you might be in interested in a report by Mother Jones staffers Alex Jones and Tasneem Raja. Using data on political contributions during the 2012 election cycle that was compiled by, the pair produced an interesting report and state-by-state map.

Although it is based on contribution data from the prior election cycle, you might find it interesting while studying and analyzing election results.

Please visit for more.



October 31, 2013 12:41 PM

From NFOIC: COLUMBIA, Mo — The Obama Administration is releasing its 2013 open government National Action Plan today to coincide with the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit meeting in London.

In a preview report, the Administration claims it has delivered on 24 of 26 commitments it made in its initial National Action Plan in 2011.

"I have publicly commended the administration’s rhetorical embrace of openness and transparency, as well as some of its commendable initiatives. However, the report was a tad self-congratulatory for my tastes," NFOIC Executive Director Ken Bunting said. "More than what these action plans have or have not achieved, I am afraid this administration's legacy on openness will be marred by its overzealousness in dealing with leaks, its use of secret law in FISA court matters and the NSA’s overreaching surveillance practices."

Visit The White House for more.



October 30, 2013 10:30 PM

From NFOIC: COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) is among open government groups that are urging the Obama White House to renounce and reform secret law practices that have enabled controversial and overreaching National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs.

In an October 21 letter sent to President Obama in advance of this week’s three-day international conference on governmental transparency in London, forty-six US-based open government groups, including NFOIC, urged the President to pledge to curb use of secret legal interpretations by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“While the government has an obligation to protect properly and appropriately classified information, democracy does not thrive when our national security programs and the intelligence community’s actions are shrouded in secrecy,” the open government groups said in the letter to Obama. “The public must, at the very least, have a shared understanding of the bounds and limits of the laws of our land and be able to have an informed debate about our policies.”

The letter's timing was prescient, but unscripted except in the sense that it was aimed at the London conference of the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) that the administration helped to spearhead, starting in 2011. But it also came at a time when the NSA and it activities have become a source of increasing global tensions and embarrassment. That is thanks in large part to classified documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden and demands for explanations, answers and apologies by German Chancellor German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others.

NFOIC Executive Director Ken Bunting, who was invited to the London conference but could not attend, said that given those developments there might have been a “a credibility payoff” had the administration made voluntary reforms regarding use of secret law part of its commitment for the London conference.

News coverage about the OGP conference follows:


October 27, 2013 4:56 PM

From NFOIC: A federal appeals court has agreed with NFOIC’s Delaware-based member organization, the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, that Delaware’s Chancery Court judges’ practice of overseeing and resolving business disputes in secret arbitrations is unconstitutional.

Following the ruling, handed down last Wednesday by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, state and court officials, including a spokesman for Gov. Gov. Jack Markell’s office, indicated they are considering an appeal.

John Flaherty, president of the DelCOG, which filed a lawsuit challenging the Chancery Court’s secret practices in 2009, applauded the ruling.

“We have a right, when public officials are conducting business, that it be done in public,” Flaherty said.

Many US corporations use Delaware addresses as their headquarters to avoid accountability, taxes and various kinds of scrutiny.

Please see an article from The Washington Post for more. Also, see a letter from the Delaware Coalition for Open Government (PDF/77KB) and the court opinion (PDF/657KB).


US Circuit Court rules against Delaware Chancery arbitration process

From (Oct. 24, 2013) WILMINGTON — A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a blow to Delaware on Wednesday when it ruled that its “secret” arbitration process in Chancery Court is unconstitutional.

The state made no secret that the program was designed to help maintain Delaware’s lucrative place as the preferred legal home to big business.

For decades, the franchise has generated as much as a third of the state’s annual revenues.

The decision upholds a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin who found the program, which created a special forum that would allow sitting judges to confidentially arbitrate businesses-to-business disputes, violates the First Amendment.

The Chancery Court program is fundamentally different from other arbitration programs “because they are conducted before active judges in a courthouse, because they result in a binding order of the Chancery Court and because they allow only limited right of appeal,” wrote Circuit Judge Dolores Sloviter for the 2-1 majority.

“The First Amendment ... protection of speech includes a right of public access to trials,” said Sloviter, finding that Chancery arbitration process amounts to a civil trial and must be open. “[T]he interests of the state and the public in openness must be given weight, not just the interests of rich businesspersons in confidentiality.” wrote Sloviter.

The Chancery arbitration program, created by the state Legislature in 2009, is only open to business entities involved in a dispute for more than $1 million. The court keeps secret the names of the parties and the nature of the dispute, and proceedings are closed to the public.

It is unknown if the state will appeal Wednesday’s ruling but officials can ask for the full appeals court to review the case and also seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

David Finger, attorney for the Delaware Coalition for Open Government which first filed suit against the Chancery Court program in 2011, praised Wednesday’s ruling.“The court gave a very thorough analysis and we’re happy with the result,” said Finger.

A number of media outlets, including The News Journal, joined the case on the side of the coalition after the suit was filed. Business groups joined on the side of the Chancery Court.

John Flaherty, president of the coalition, said the ruling is a win for the rule of law and openness and transparency in government.

“We have a right, when public officials are conducting business, that it be done in public,” he said.

Gov. Jack Markell’s office issued a statement expressing disappointment in the decision. “We feel strongly that it is important to our nation and our state to provide cost-effective options to resolve business-to-business disputes to remain competitive with other countries around the world. Given the importance of this issue, we will be evaluating the appellate options after we have an opportunity to further study the three opinions,” said Andy Pincus, an outside attorney hired to argue the state’s case, in the statement.


Visit for more.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

More related articles

Court opens Delaware arbitrations to public

Delaware Chancery Court process should be open to public

Appeals court rejects secret Delaware arbitration

Delaware's 'secret trials' violate 1st Amendment: U.S. Court

Delaware judges can’t do secret arbitrations, Court Rules


October 25, 2013 12:43 PM

From NFOIC:  A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

OU student sues school over refusal to release parking-ticket records

image of Access keyWhat started out as a curiosity about whether certain students received favorable treatment on parking tickets has evolved into a legal battle pitting the state Open Records Act against federal privacy law concerns and a student against the university he attends. Joey Stipek sued the University of Oklahoma earlier this year after administration officials refused to make public an electronic database the school maintained of parking tickets issued by its personnel.


Kohr's Frozen Custard failed electrical inspection before boardwalk fire (N.J.)

The candy business seated above the wiring and electrical equipment that sparked a massive boardwalk fire last month passed its electrical inspection after superstorm Sandy, but the adjoining custard shop did not, a NJ Press Media investigation found. Biscayne Candies earned approval from a state electrical inspector in May to have its power restored before opening for the summer, according to records in the borough’s building department.


Treehouse dispute spurs Florida Sunshine Law investigation

The State Attorney's Office has asked Bradenton Police to investigate a possible Sunshine Law violation by City of Holmes Beach officials. ... Attorneys for Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, who own a controversial treehouse in Holmes Beach, sent a letter to State Attorney Ed Brodsky on Sept. 5, alleging that the Holmes Beach city commission violated the Sunshine Law on Aug. 29 when they met with their city attorneys to discuss the treehouse case.


Wisconsin court rejects state's argument that media shouldn't intervene in 'John Doe' case

The Court of Appeals is rejecting the state's argument that media companies and First Amendment advocates should not be allowed to intervene in a criminal appeal of one of Scott Walker's former aides. In an order filed Wednesday, Judge Patricia Curley wrote that there's no indication the state is pushing for the unsealing of certain records in the case, which is what media companies want in the case.


Editorial: Delaware Chancery Court process should be open to public

Delawareans are proud of the state’s court system. They recognize that Delaware’s courts not only serve the public in criminal and civil matters. They also play a powerful role in the state’s economy. That is particularly true of Delaware’s Chancery Court. It has a national reputation for depth, sophistication and impartiality. Not only that, many of Chancery’s business-vs.-business cases bring in revenue for the state. Important as that is, we must remember that Chancery is part of the state’s legal system and is therefore accountable to the public.


Indiana Board of Education member asking court to dismiss Glenda Ritz's lawsuit

Another day, another round of contention in the power struggle between the state’s voter-elected superintendent and the governor-appointed board of education. One day after Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz sued the board, contending that members were operating in secret without her knowledge, a board member said Wednesday his attorney was filing a motion to dismiss her suit. The state’s attorney general also weighed in, saying he hoped to help resolve the matter without going to court.


Secrecy surrounds fraud allegations in New Mexico mental health audit

In June, New Mexico’s Behavioral Health care system was thrown into chaos — the state abruptly froze Medicaid payments to more than a dozen mental health providers in the state after an audit allegedly found widespread fraud. Those providers served nearly 30,000 patients, but neither the public nor those accused have been able to see the actual audit because the state says an investigation continues.


Editorial: Open records law should apply to Penn State, other taxpayer-supported institutions

There was a curious moment — or a series of curious moments — during Monday’s state Senate committee hearing on proposed changes to the state’s open records law as it pertains to Penn State and the commonwealth’s three other state-related universities. Lawyers for Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln argued that the universities -- supported by state taxpayers, but not considered state schools -- should be exempt from aspects of the open records law because they are not state agencies and do not enjoy the state’s sovereign immunity from lawsuits.


Proposal would allow Florida universities to withhold names of candidates for top jobs

Those seeking jobs as provost, dean or president at one of Florida’s public universities could receive public records protection over their names and work history being released to the public under a law proposed by state Rep. Dave Kerner. Under the measure, universities could withhold names and resume information on job candidates seeking key executive posts, similar to the practice in states including like Pennsylvania, Delaware and Michigan, which have far weaker public records provisions than Florida.


Penn State record access debated

HARRISBURG - Fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child abuse sex scandal put higher education officials on the defensive Monday as they fought to keep their academic exemption under the state open records law. The exemption for Penn State University and three other state-related universities has existed since the law's enactment in 2009. Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, and others have proposed ending it as part of an open records law rewrite.


South Dakota newspaper presses FOIA fight for food stamp payment data

South Dakota's Argus Leader newspaper urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to reverse a ruling blocking the newspaper from receiving data on how much the federal government pays to stores that redeeem food stamp benefits. Jon Arneson, an attorney for the newspaper, told a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that a lower court judge misinterpreted the law by ruling that a confidentiality provision for retailer applications allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withhold all data on payments to those retailers. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper requested the data on annual payments to each retailer approved to take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.


Open records at issue in Detroit conference

Detroit— Last year, Wayne County informed reporters that it would cost some $1.8 million if they wanted months of emails from Executive Robert Ficano and three former aides. The explanation: The county’s computer network would need to be backed up to retrieve a single email and lawyers would need to spend 66,000 hours — about 7 1/2 years working around the clock — reviewing all the data.


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