FOI Advocate Blog

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 6, 2013 8:56 AM

From ABC News:  The Justice Department is declassifying portions of some secret court orders concerning the government's authority to seize records under the Patriot Act.

The department revealed its decision to declassify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions in a filing with the federal court in the Northern District of California Wednesday. The government says it will provide hundreds of pages of documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group that had filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.

The release of the records is in response to an order issued by a federal judge in California. In its filing, the Justice Department said it was "broadly construing" that order and is declassifying a larger set of documents than the ruling required.

The Justice Department said it would provide the document to the foundation by Tuesday.

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September 5, 2013 12:10 PM

From Electronic Frontier Foundation: In a major victory in one of EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, the Justice Department conceded yesterday that it will release hundreds of documents, including FISA court opinions, related to the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law the NSA has relied upon for years to mass collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans.

In a court filing, the Justice Department, responding to a judge’s order, said that they would make public a host of material that will “total hundreds of pages” by next week, including: [O]rders and opinions of the FISC issued from January 1, 2004, to June 6, 2011, that contain a significant legal interpretation of the government’s authority or use of its authority under Section 215; and responsive “significant documents, procedures, or legal analyses incorporated into FISC opinions or orders and treated as binding by the Department of Justice or the National Security Agency.”

While the government finally released a white paper detailing its expansive (and unconstitutional) interpretation of Section 215 last month, more important FISA court opinions adopting at least part of that interpretation have remained secret. The results of EFF’s FOIA lawsuit will finally lift the veil on the dubious legal underpinnings of NSA’s domestic phone surveillance program.

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March 28, 2012 2:43 AM

From Electronic Frontier Foundation

We reviewed what EFF’s Freedom of Information Act requests revealed in the past year. Today, we’ll take a look at the FOIA lawsuits we filed last year and the information we hope the suits will provide.

On the 10th anniversary of the Patriot Act, EFF sued the Justice Department for its refusal to release information concerning the controversial provision of the PATRIOT Act known as Section 215. In early 2011, multiple Senators warned that the FBI believed Section 215 allowed them “unfettered” access to innocent Americans’ private data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records” in bulk form. "When the American people find out about how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act,” said Wyden on the Senate floor in May, “they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.” Unfortunately, the Senators could not give further details since the Justice Department interpretation was classified.

March 16, 2012 11:49 AM

A few open government and FOIA news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier. Be sure to check out Sunshine Week 2012 News while you're at it.

Government confirms it has secret interpretation of Patriot Act Spy Powers

The government has just officially confirmed what we've long suspected: there are secret Justice Department opinions about the Patriot Act's Section 215, which allows the government to get secret orders from a special surveillance court (the FISA Court) requiring Internet service providers and other companies to turn over "any tangible things." Just exactly what the government thinks that phrase means remains to be seen, but there are indications that their take on it is very broad.

Visit ACLU for the rest.

Requests for public records from Wis. Gov. Walker's office increase three-fold

MADISON, Wis. — The firestorm of debate ignited by Gov. Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining rules last year also triggered an explosion of requests for public information from his office. The office received 214 written requests during 2011, some three times more than the previous governor saw just a few years earlier, Gannett Wisconsin Media found while checking public records activity as part of a Sunshine Week open-government initiative.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Results vary in local public records audit

Without access to public records, revealing the day-to-day happenings in government — from the mundane to the corrupt — would citizens be informed? Government really does control people’s lives, said Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington. It controls who puts money in and who takes money out.

Visit Daily Record for the rest.

FOIA request flushes out details of settlement

Details of the settlement reached in a former New Milford police official’s $10 million federal lawsuit against the town, Mayor Patricia Murphy and the town’s police chief have been obtained by The Housatonic Times in response to a freedom of information request.

Visit Litchfield County Times for the rest.

Obama FOIA efforts earn mixed grades

Many federal agencies have failed to track basic information in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, according to a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee study released Thursday. A separate, rosier study from nonprofit OMBWatch noted FOIA progress compared to previous years.

Visit Government Executive for the rest.

Arizona Republic and 12 News fight to access public records

The Arizona Republic and 12 News in 2011 successfully went to court more than 10 times to open public records for inspection. Journalists fight every day to open records and meeting to the public, but these cases stand out as significant legal victories.

Visit TucsonCitizen.com for the rest.

Agencies to launch portal for online FOIA requests

WASHINGTON — Filing a request for public information under the Freedom of Information Act can be easy — if you know where to send it. If you don't, you may end up sending your request to multiple agencies, hoping you picked the right one ... By October, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce and the National Archives and Records Administration hope to launch an electronic FOIA portal that would give the public one place to file a FOIA request.

Visit Democrat and Chronicle for the rest.

March 16, 2012 10:31 AM

From New York Times:

WASHINGTON — For more than two years, a handful of Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have warned that the government is secretly interpreting its surveillance powers under the Patriot Act in a way that would be alarming if the public — or even others in Congress — knew about it.

[...]

The dispute centers on what the government thinks it is allowed to do under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, under which agents may obtain a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing them to get access to any “tangible things” — like business records — that are deemed “relevant” to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

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