Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. 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.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The King of Pop's FBI Files

In response to a FOIA request by several news organizations, the FBI released more than 300 pages of its file on the late pop star, Michael Jackson, which detail its investigation into charges of child molestation against the singer in 1993 and 2004 as well as extortion threats made against Jackson in 1992.

Read more, here.

Judge Orders NYPD to Release Racial Data of Persons Under Police Gunfire from 1997 to 2006

Ruling on a case filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2008, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden ordered the NYPD to turn over the racial breakdown of all people shot at by police officers between 1997 and 2006.

The NYPD had agreed to release racial breakdown of those injured by police gunfire, but not data about those who were shot at but not hit.

For more information, click here.

Illinois Attorney General Names New Public Access Counselor in Advance of Revised FOIA Effective Date

Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, will be the agency's new public access counselor to enforce the state Freedom of Information Act, revisions to which will take effect on January 1, 2010.

The revised FOIA includes fines for failure to comply with the law and tighter deadlines for government to respond to FOIA requests.

Click here for more on the new revisions to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Attempting to Examine the Relationships Between Drug Companies, Medical Device Makers, and Med Schools

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and reporter John Fauber have filed suit against the University of Wisconsin's medical school and its supporting foundation for violating the state's public records laws. The lawsuit alleges that the school and foundation have wrongfully refused to release faculty comments about a proposed conflict-of-interest policy.

The institutions have refused to provide the faculty comments on the ground that they were not public records, and even if they were, there was a greater public interest in keeping them secret than in disclosing them.

Critics contend that the money drug and medical-device companies pay to doctors and medical school lead to higher health care costs.

For more information, click here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Journalism Students Pleased with Attorney General's Response

In April, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism students filed a request with Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen regarding the applicability of the public records and open meetings law to student governments in the University of Wisconsin System. They say they are pleased with the Attorney General's response, which concludes that a student government organization is subject to the requirements of Wisconsin's open meetings law under certain circumstances.

Proposed Federal Legislation to Protect Petition and Free Speech

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) has introduced the Citizen Participation Act of 2009, H.R. 4364, which encourages civic engagement and protects against meritless lawsuits brought against those who petition the government or speak out on a public issue. If someone is sued without merit for exercising his or her First Amendment rights, the bill would allow the defendant to have the lawsuit dismissed and recover attorney's fees.

Get more information about the bill here and a link to the bill here.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has appointed an attorney to be a full-time public records chief who will develop a statewide standard for releasing government documents, and instead of requiring a $25 fee, Kroger has placed a citizens guide to using public records law and the Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual online. These moves signal greater efforts to improved government transparency.

But, at the same time, Kroger has also signaled his office will no longer confirm or deny open investigations on civil matters involving businesses accused of consumer fraud.

For more information, click here.

USA Today Investigation Shows Norovirus Sickened 7500 Children Since 1998

A USA Today investigation found that the norovirus is the most sickening food-borne illness for schoolchildren, and it is most often spread through improper food handling in cafeterias. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that norovirus caused about 7,500 children to be sick from food-borne illness from 1998 to 2007 with more than 8,500 failing to have their kitchens inspected last year.

For more details, click here.

What French Toast Has to do with FL Commuter Rail Negotiations

A Florida state representative says the Department of Transportation used food names, like "pancakes" and "French toast" as the subject line in emails about the state's commuter rail negotiations in order to foil public records requests.

The DOT head counters, saying the food names were used simply to get his attention. But critics are skeptical, asserting that the DOT officials were actively circumventing transparency laws.

For more on the scandal, click here.

AP Asks West Virginia Supreme Court to Rehear Email Dispute

The Associated Press has filed a request for rehearing of a November ruling that decided a former justice's emails to a coal company executive were not subject to West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.

The AP's petition asks the Court to reverse its opinion and rehear the case because the state's FOIA law should be liberally applied. "The dreadful message sent by this Court's opinion is that questions about a judge's impartiality are none of the public's business," the AP filing states. "To suggest that such records are non of the public's business is not just wrong factually and legally, it is bad public policy."

For more information, click here.

FOIA Request Shows FBI Scrutinized John Hope Franklin

TPMmuckraker obtained the FBI file for the late John Hope Franklin, which reveal the FBI scrutinized the historian in the 1960s for supposed ties to communists, his opposition to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and his support for W.E.B. Du Bois. Franklin was 94 when he died in May. Franklin authored the classic work From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans.

The FBI file is comprised mainly of background checks when he was up for presidential appointments. The FBI withheld 18 pages of the 515-page file.

For more information and an excerpt of the historian's file, click here.

Redaction Run Amok!

The Puget Sound Business Journal has been seeking internal communications between Washington Mutual (WaMu) and federal regulators, including the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC).

Of interest are internal emails, which the news organization hopes will help explain why regulators seized the bank in September 2008 even though WaMu appeared to meet regulatory standards for operating banks.

The results of the FOIA requests have been less than forthcoming. OTS denied the request in full, citing FOIA exemptions that protect records concerning the operations of financial institutions and to protect inter-agency communication. Meanwhile, the FDIC produced emails, but they were so heavily redacted as to be meaningless. In doing so, the FDIC relied on FOIA exemption 8, which allows the government to redact information related to the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.

To see the emails, click here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Millions of Bush Administration E-mails Found

The AP reports that computer technicians found 22 million missing White House e-mails from the George W. Bush administration as part of litigation brought against the Executive Office of the President in 2007 by two private groups - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive. The two groups alleged the Bush White House failed to install an electronic record-keeping system.

Before the emails are released to the public, the National Archives will have to process the records for release. The records won't be available until 2014 at the earliest.

For more details regarding the e-mail discovery, click here.

Investigation into Use of Confiscated World Series Tickets to be Public

Writing that, "if anyone should obey the law, the Metropolitan Police Department should," a judge in St. Louis order the Board of Commissioners to release records of the investigation of police officers who let family and friends use dozens of 2006 World Series tickets that had been confiscated from scalpers. Circuit Judge Philip D. Heagney said the board ignored open records laws and court decisions.

Heagney rejected the arguments of the police lawyers that the report should be kept from public scrutiny because it did not involve criminal activity, only personnel issues exempt under the law.

For more regarding the decision and the disciplinary actions taken against the police officers, click here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pennsylvania Judge Says Addresses Don't Need to be Released in Emergency Logs

A York County, Pennsylvania judge ruled that the county could refuse to release addresses in emergency time response logs and still comply with the commonwealth's Right-to-Know law. In making his ruling, President Judge Richard K. Renn noted that the citizen's privacy concerns were compelling, particularly in an emergency situation. The York Daily Record/Sunday News requested time response logs in order to audit emergency response times.

Click here for the judge's opinion and here for some community response.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

High Speed Chase Video Obtained by FOIA Request

Watch this video obtained by 24 Hour News 8 through a FOIA request of a high-speed crash involving a Michigan State Police trooper on September 19 when the trooper was trying to pull over a speeding motorcyclist.

Open Government Foes Argue Freedom of Speech is Protected Best by Secrecy

Three Texas cities and the Texas Municipal League have endorsed a legal challenge to Texas' Open Meetings Act, claiming the law unconstitutionally restricts their freedom of speech. The Texas Municipal League also passed a resolution to support changes that would lessen the penalties for violations of the open meetings act.

Critics point out, of course, that government officials enjoy freedom of speech under the state law, but simply must say it in front of the public at an open meeting when they are part of a quorum of a governmental body.

Click here for more.

Delaware Representative Wants Quicker FOIA Responses

A Delaware state representative has pre-filed a bill designed to ensure timely responses to FOIA requests. House Bill 300 would establish a deadline of 10 business days for government agencies and public entities to respond to FOIA requests.

Click here for more, including an audio report.

Federal Media Shield Bill Advances

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the media shield bill, a bill to protect reporters' confidential sources in federal court, except in cases of national security.

The bill defines journalists broadly, including bloggers, citizen journalists and freelancers.

For more information, click here.

NJ School Board Members Need to Take it Outside

An attorney advising the Pequannock, NJ school board opined that using a cell phone or PDA to communicate during meetings could violate the state's Open Public Meetings Act, saying such messaging is "probably a violation of the spirit and intent" of the law. The attorney has asked school board members to step outside the board room to use their cell phones or PDAs if they need to use them during meetings.

Get the full story here.

Open Government Initiative's Progress Report

The White House's Open Government Initiative published this post with a link to its Progress Report on Open Government to the American People regarding the Obama administration's goal to increase government transparency, participation, and collaboration. Check it out - it's quite good, actually.

NY Sheriff's Office Charges for Inaccurate Records

The Onondaga County Sheriff's Office in New York has found itself amidst a bit of controversy after a retired state trooper was denied a job as a volunteer mentor in Syracuse schools because the county sheriff's background check turned up a 33-year-old arrest for shoplifting, even though the case was forever sealed by a judge.

The Sheriff's Office admits that its records rarely show the court disposition of charges. In addition to being inaccurate, the records cost $10 to obtain. Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government says the Sheriff shouldn't charge for these public records, except for copying costs.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Obama Administration Releases Open Government Directive

This morning, the Obama administration released its Open Government Directive, which calls for "transparency, participation and collaboration" by all federal departments and agencies. It seeks to "create and institutionalize a culture of open government."

The initiative directs the governmental departments and agencies with specific requirements and deadlines. It will allow the public to soon have immediate access to all sorts of federal information and will provide for public feedback on the quality of information provided.

See the Directive here.

Click for more views and commentary.

Disclosure of Concealed-Handgun Permits Weighed by Oregon Court of Appeals

Attorneys have argued the case pending before the Oregon Court of Appeals to decide whether Oregon's sheriffs must disclose the holder of concealed-handgun permits under the state's public records law. The lower court ruled in favor of the newspaper and openness of public records. There is no deadline for the court to render its decision.

The case stems from the Mail Tribune's request to obtain the list of people with concealed-handgun permits in 2007. The Jackson County sheriff refused to make the records public, arguing that privacy concerns weighed against disclosure. An attorney for the sheriff said he was asserting a right of privacy for the permit holders, asserting it may be "stigmatizing" for permit holders to have that information made public.

The Mail Tribune's attorney disagrees and argues that the concealed-handgun permit form at the time contained an acknowledgement that the information was subject to state public records law.

Click here for more info.

Oklahoma Attorney General Opinion Leaves Agencies with Discretion to Release Employees' Birth Dates

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has released an opinion that leaves it to government agencies to decide whether to release public employees' birth dates. The opinion states government agencies have the discretion to determine whether the release of an employee's birth date falls within the exemption to the state's Open Records Act that allows records to be kept confidential if releasing them would be an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The opinion came in response to Oklahoma City's refusal to release the birth date of the city's Weed and Seed program director, Ed Martin, who was placed on administrative leave after city officials found federal grant funds had been mismanaged. The Oklahoman, arguing it is impossible to match common names without a birth date, sought Martin's birth date in order to conduct background research after he was identified as part of the investigation.

For more information, click here.

What a "Presumption of Openness" Means

The Janesville Gazette in Wisconsin reports it battled with the Rock County corporate counsel, Jeff Kuglitsch, to obtain documents related to the resignation of former Human Resources Director John Becker. Yet it took the newspaper two months and four letters to obtain the documents, which were sitting in Kuglitsch's office the whole time.

Attorney Robert Dreps with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association was outraged when he learned of the tactics used to respond to the newspaper's records request, calling them "semantics" and noting, "Open records law provisions aren't determined by where you put the document or what you call it."

For his part, Kuglitsch maintains he followed the law.

Examining the Breadth of Sunshine in the Sunshine State

A Florida representative has asked the state attorney general to determine if a regional economic development organization is subject to the state's open records and meeting laws.

Florida's Great Northwest, an economic development group designed to push workforce development in 16 northwest Florida counties, was not created by law or public agency, but it does receive federal and state money. The group maintains that it is exempt from the open meeting and open records law.

For more information, click here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Social Research Conference: February 24 - 26, 2010

The New School in New York City will host a social research conference, Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy, on February 24, 25, and 26. The conference will investigate how our government and other institutions organize, fund, restrict, facilitate or affect the flow of knowledge, and examine how limits may support or undermine democracy. The conference will begin with a keynote address by Seymour Hersch.

For more information, click here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

FOIA Request Reveals How a School Lunch Program Ordered Recalled Tainted Beef

The USA Today obtained through FOIA that raises questions regarding whether the government took adequate steps to ensure meat purchased for schoolchildren is safe. During a recall of ground beef products made at Beef Packers Inc. from June 5 to June 23, four orders were produced for the National School Lunch Program.

Get the full report here.

Lawsuit Asks Government How it Cyber-Stalks

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and UC Berkeley's Samuelson Center has sued a number of federal agencies to force them to release documents regarding the use of social networking sites, like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as part of investigative procedures.

The FOIA requests seek manuals on the procedures for accessing social sites, policies for creating fake identities, and software used to analyze data harvested.

Read more here.

Open Records Advocate Says He Knows How to Save the Government Billions

Open records advocate Carl Malamud obtained information through a FOIA request showing that the Department of Justice paid more than $4 million in 2009 and the IRS paid nearly $1 million in 2008 for access to the federal court's electronic filing system, which is composed entirely of documents in the public domain. Malamud says an open source repository of U.S. legal materials could save the government billions of dollars.

Malamud has filed 34 requests with federal agencies and is preparing to file another 100 to offices in the executive branch as part of his campaign to make court records available in bulk.

The federal courts search system known as Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, charges $.08 per page to look at federal court filings (excluding tax courts and the Supreme Court) and pulled in nearly $50 million in 2006. The system does not allow for bulk download.

For more information about Malamud's campaign, click here.

Former Arizona Diamondbacks Pitcher's Wife Died of a Cocaine Overdose

An Arizona Court of Appeals disclosed the cause of death for former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Scott Schoeneweis' wife in a ruling on whether an autopsy report and other records must be disclosed under Arizona's public records law.

Gabrielle Schoeneweis was found dead on May 20 in the couple's suburban Phoenix home. Her death was caused by an overdose of cocaine and an anesthetic, lidocaine.

Read more about it here.

High Copying Costs Thwart Open Public Records Act Goals

The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government says outmoded copying fees are exorbitant in light of technological advances that make copying easier, faster, and cheaper than in years past, and that such fees present a real deterrent to the open government goals espoused in the Open Public Records Act.

The current fees are at least 75 cents per page for the first 10 pages, 50 cents per page for the next 10 pages, and 25 cents per page for additional pages. While litigants can petition for a fee reduction on a case-by-case basis, open government advocates urge the NJ Legislature to lower the fees by statute.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Remembering Mark Pittman

Mark Pittman, an award-wining reporter, died tragically November 25 at age 52.

Pittman was a true freedom of information warrior. He pushed to open the Federal Reserve to more scrutiny. Thanks to the work of Pittman and his colleague, Craig Torres for seeking the information, in August, Bloomberg won a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan requiring the Federal Reserve to release the names of the entities to which it has lent money. That decision is still being appealed.

Click here for remembrances by Pittman's colleagues.

Obama Delays Release of Historic Military and Intelligence Reports

Despite pledging to expand governmental transparency, President Obama has granted an open-ended extension to agencies for releasing millions of pages of military and intelligence documents that were scheduled to be declassified by the end of the year.

The documents date from World War II to the early 1980s and cover foreign relations, intelligence activities and military operations with the exception of nuclear weapons data.

The Boston Globe reports Obama delayed the release of the historic documents because his administration has been unable to prod spy agencies into conformance with agencies "engaged in turf battles over how documents should be evaluated" and have reviewed only a fraction of the materials to determine if their release would jeopardize national security.

Get more information here.

Pennsylvania Enjoys Signal Improvement on its Right-to-Know Law Anniversary

As the one-year anniversary of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law approaches, open records advocates are hailing the improvements the Commonwealth has made under the new law.

The new law provides a first-stage appeal with the taxpayer-funded open records office, whose lawyers issue binding opinions. It also established a new presumption in the law that almost all records are open unless the government proves otherwise.

While the improvements are being praised, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes there have also been criticism of some rulings the office acknowledged as mistakes, tensions with the Governor's administration, budget cut fears, and concerns that the new process is bogging down instead of speeding up the process.

Learn more here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Celebrating Unsung Heroes in the Fight for Open Government

The American Society of News Editors announced next year's national Sunshine Week will highlight local heroes across America who have played significant roles in fighting for open government. National Sunshine Week will be March 14 - 20.

"There are a lot of unsung heroes in the battle for freedom of information, and we plan to use next year's Sunshine Week to bring attention to those who have fought tirelessly for open government,"said ASNE President Marty Kaiser.

"They might include the average citizen who forced elected officials to open their meetings to the public," said Kaiser, "or perhaps a homeowner who used freedom of information laws to reveal environmental dangers in his neighborhood. A 'local hero' could even be a civic group or an association that pushed for 'sunshine laws that shed more light into the dark corners of government."

For more information click here and here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Investigative Team Finds Pennsylvania Lacking in Transparency, Despite New Right to Know Law

Pittsburgh's Team 4 reports that despite a new Right to Know Law, aimed at improving Pennsylvania government transparency, the Legislature is not being forthcoming. For example, the Legislature doesn't post online all of its leases for lawmakers' district offices, citing the need to redact signatures from the leases, even though Team 4 reports the Legislature promised to post the records online. Get the full report here.

The investigative team wanted online access as part of its investigation that asks, "With our ability now to e-mail and get things done on the Internet, why do lawmakers still have so many district offices?"

Pennsylvania legislators are allowed to make their own deals with landlords for their district offices. An investigation into relationships found that 15 lawmakers in Western Pennsylvania have accepted campaign contributions from their district office landlords, and one state senator even had a financial interest in the group owning the building from which he leased his district office. Get the more details here.

Click here for the interactive map of district offices.

Free Legal Help to Online Journalists

The Citizen Media Law Project announced the launch of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University's Online Media Legal Network (OMLN), a new pro bono initiative that connects lawyers and law school clinics with online journalists who need legal help. OMLN will provide free assistance on a variety of legal issues, including business formation and governance, copyright licensing and fair use, employment and freelancer agreements, access to government information, pre-publication review of content, and representation in litigation.

Get more details here.

Bruce and Sara Schundler: Champions of Mesa Verde National Park and FOIA

Heroic FOI work is being done by former NJ public official, Bruce Schundler, and his wife as they seek accountability at the Mesa Verde National Park.

Initially trying to avoid the bureaucratic costs of a FOIA request but ultimately forced to file a formal FOIA request and not seeking any statutory fee waivers, the seasonal park ranger wanted information regarding sister relationships at the park and the travel expenditures and habits of Superintendent Larry Wiese. But, as he wrote to Jack O'Brian of the Intermountain Regional Office of the National Park Service, Mesa Verde National Park officials acted under "a veil of secrecy about everything, and an undercurrent of fear and intimidation if anyone asks for information or if any divulges virtually anything but the most routine information."

Schundler also wrote to Alexandra Mallus of the Department of Interior regarding the personal toll that his FOI efforts had taken amidst rumors that Wiese "let it be known that he doesn't want my wife, Sara, and me to be hired again as seasonal interpretive rangers... Perhaps now you can appreciate why sometimes trying to make government open and transparent can be not only frustrating, it can be painful, it can get personal, and it can have financial consequences."

Schundler hosts a website chronicling his FOIA struggles. Although he was granted his modified and revised request in full, Schundler is appealing with the Department of Interior regarding the amount and quality of information provided pursuant to his request. Schundler also chronicles how, in the midst of Schundler's FOI requests, Superintendent Larry Wiese resigned his post.

Check it out, click here.

Texas Cities to Challenge State Law Requiring Open Government Meetings

Texas cities Pflugerville and Rockport as well as council members from 18 others will challenge the state law requiring open government meetings in a lawsuit to be filed in federal court in Pecos before the end of the year.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a similar lawsuit on the grounds that former Alpine council members lacked standing to sue.

Get more here.

West Virginia Lawmakers Suggest Revising State FOIA Statute

West Virginia state representative and House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster says the legislature should revisit the many exemptions and exceptions made to the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Webster's statement comes on the heels of a West Virgnia Supreme Court decision in which 13 emails between former Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship are not public records. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Margaret Workman wrote that the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act should be changed to allow consideration of the the context in which the records are produced when deciding if they qualify as public records.

As originally enacted in 1977, the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act contained eight reasons to withhold information from the public. Since then, more than 75 exemptions have been added to the FOIA statute, according to a 2007 review by The Associated Press.

Get more information here.

FOIA Suits Filed to Gain Information About Federal Bailout Programs

Public interest investigation group Judicial Watch has filed two new FOIA lawsuits against the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve for their respective failures to provide information about the federal government's bailout programs.

The group filed a request with the Treasury Department on June 19, 2009 relating to a congressional briefing on the financial crisis held on September 18, 2008. The Treasury Department acknowledged receipt of the FOIA request on June 22, but has not yet produced any documents or indicated when documents will be provided.

Similarly, Judicial Watch made a FOIA request with the Federal Reserve on September 2, 2009, seeking access to visitor logs for meetings with Chairman Ben Bernanke and advisor Kevin Warsh from August 2007 to the present. The Federal Reserve acknowledged the request, but has not yet produced any records.

For more information, click here.

Wisconsin Legislator Wants Better Access to Death Information

Wisconsin state Senator Cale Case is proposing legislation to require coroners to "furnish as much information as is not privileged or confidential by law and shall use redaction as necessary to allow the fullest disclosure authorized by law." Case says death investigations have become less accessible to the public as technology and investigative techniques improve, and notes that it's a matter of public safety that coroners and investigators be held accountable to the public.

Get more information here.

ACLU Urges Gates to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse, Despite New Exemption Under FOIA

The ACLU is urging Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates not to exercise the authority granted him under a Homeland Security appropriations bill signed by President Obama to continue suppressing photos of prisoner abuse. The amendment allows the DOD to exempt photos from the Freedom of Information Act.

Click here for more.

Tracing the Source of Food-Borne Illnesses in Schools

USA Today investigated government-run school lunch programs and found schools have virtually no way to know where all the food on any given lunch tray comes from because there are so many processors and distributors involved. Add to that no timely way to check the health and safety records of those companies supplying the food and a poor alert system for any problems found, and you've got a recipe for widespread food-borne illness outbreaks like the one that hit Racine, Wisconsin in October 2007 when 101 children became ill after eating tortillas served in the school lunch program.

Read all about it and get links to documents obtained by USA Today here.

Alaska's "Going Rouge" in Responding to Palin Administration Records Requests

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell wants even more time to respond to records requests pertaining to Palin administration e-mails and other information, even though some requests have been pending for more than a year.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, the excuses range from too many requests, too complicated requests, and too voluminous requests to requests that require an attorney to review the documents individually for privacy and executive privilege issues.

For more on the delayed records response from the Alaska state government, click here.

FOIA at Work: FBI watched Studs Terkel

The late Chicago author Studs Terkel, whose work focused on working people and the downtown, was watched by the FBI. An FBI file released to NYCity News Service under the FOIA also shows Terkel once applied for a job with the FBI, but was turned down.

Get more here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Investigation Finds Felons Working in Higher Education

Since Utah enacted the Higher Education Criminal Background Checks bill, effective May 1, 2009, Weber State University's The Signpost found that eight individuals with felonies or serious misdemeanors were employed by the university. Three of those individuals no longer work for the school.

The law requires criminal background checks for new employees in higher education. Anyone applying for a position that would have "significant contact with a minor or a position that is security-sensitive" must submit to a criminal background check as a condition of employment.

Weber State University takes electronic fingerprints from applicants and sends them to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, using a federal criminal database, before making a final offer of employment.

Read more from the two-part investigative series: Part 1 and Part 2.

Chicago's Mayor Daley Sued for Olympic Bid Information

Non-profit Judicial Watch is suing Chicago's Mayor Daley and his office for failing to respond to a FOIA request for access to public records regarding Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The request seeks all correspondence between the Mayor's Office and President Obama, Michelle Obama, and White House staff regarding the bid.

More here.

A Terrible Setback in West Virginia

The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that public officials and employees can keep their person emails secret.

The Associated Press had sued to gain access to 13 emails between former Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard and Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship, but the court ruled 4-1 that none of the emails are public records.

Justice Robin Davis quoted an Arizona Supreme Court decision noting that the definition of a public record "does not encompass documents of a purely private or personal nature."

More here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Most Complained-About Chicago Cops List Remains Closed

A list naming the 662 Chicago Police officers with 10 or more complaints filed against them will remain closed.

A journalist and 28 Chicago alderman sought access to the list compiled in connection with a 2004 suit against the Chicago Police Department.  Because that case has been settled, the federal appeals court ruled sua sponte that the journalist and alderman lacked standing to sue. 

The Fraternal Order of Police fought the release of names on the grounds that most complaints filed against police officers are eventually ruled unfounded.   The journalist and alderman counter that the court overlooked the public's interest in evaluating questionable police performance.

Get more here

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Lags Behind Technology

Click here for more on The Texas Tribune's difficulties in getting a FOIA request filed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.   It seems the office won't accept requests electronically and by fax only in case of an "emergency," leaving open who says it's an emergency and what such an emergency is.  

Following the Money Trail... At Great Expense

Missouri attorney Noah Wood is trying to collect a debt owed to his firm by a former Libyan-backed company in the U.S., and he'd like to get documents from the Treasury Department showing where perhaps millions of dollars of once-frozen assets are now.

But the Treasury Department says Wood's request will cost him $522,886 to comply with the four-year old FOIA request, even though Wood says a former Treasury Department official has "basically told them the exact file cabinet it was in." 

Wood is suing the federal government to comply with the FOIA request and to reduce the bill.  

Get more information here

Not Forgetting the Elephants

The Brookfield Zoo in Illinois has denied Suburban Life's  FOIA request for the necropsy report for Affie, one of the zoo's African elephants.  In Defense of Animals, a California-based animal advocacy group, also sought the report regarding Affie's sudden death last May from heart failure at age 40.

The Chicago Zoological Society responded to the records request, denying the information on the grounds that it is a private sector, not-for-profit corporation that manages Brookfield Zoo for the Cook County Forest Preserve District.  Accordingly, the Chicago Zoological Society says it is not subject to FOIA.  

Suburban Life says it will send its FOIA request to the Cook County Forest Preserve District instead. 

Get more here

A FOIA Request Yields a Cost Demand Figure with Two Commas in it!

Nearly $7 million dollars, with more than $3 million as a down payment.  That's the amount the Michigan Department of State Police is demanding in response to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's FOIA request for documents regarding the state's handling of federal security grant money from 2002 to the present.  

The Department of State Police says the records request for all spending reports regarding federal homeland security grants from 2002 to the present amounts to more than 2 million pages.  

Get more here

New Jersey Use-of-Force Reports are Public Records

A New Jersey appeals court panel held that police use-of-force reports are public records, upholding a 2008 Superior Court ruling that West Milford must turn over the reports to Martin O'Shea, an open-records activist.  

The town sought exemption for the records under New Jersey's Public Records Act as "criminal investigatory records," but that argument was rejected.  

More here

Maryland County Adopts Triage Approach for Records Requests

Allegany County will begin using a "triage concept" for evaluating requests under the Maryland Public Information Act to categorize requests as routine or complex and respond accordingly.

The change comes after a public information officer and county attorney attended a training seminar presented by Assistant Attorney General William Varga. 

Allegany County will not be adopting a recommendation to receive or respond to records requests via email.  

Get more here.

Assessing the Cash for Clunkers Program

Through a FOIA request, the Associated Press obtained information about the Cash for Clunkers program, covering 677,081 trade-ins through October 16.  

They discovered that the most common deal was buyers trading in their old Ford 150 pickups for new Ford 150 pickups.  The new trucks boast a fuel economy of less than 20 mpg, and just 1 to 3 mpg better than the old trucks.

Overall, the AP reports taxpayers subsidized deals totaling $562,500 for new cars and trucks that got worse mileage than the trade-ins. 

Click here for more details

Sunday, November 08, 2009

South Carolina Local Governments Post Check Registers Online

Fifteen local governments in South Carolina have posted their spending details online as part of a spending transparency initiative.  

Those governments include: the counties of Aiken, Anderson, Charleston, and Dorchester; and the municipalities of Aiken, Cayce, Charleston, Chesnee,  City of Georgetown, Irmo,  Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, and Turbeville.  The Holly Springs Fire-Rescue District and the Berkeley County School District have also posted their expenditures online.

Click here for more info.

Landmark Payout in Washington State for Public Records Law Violations

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will pay $525,000 to three girls abused by their foster father for wrongfully withholding public records from them.  

The payout stems from a lawsuit filed by three girls who endured years of abuse at the hands of their foster father, despite complaints filed with the state's Child Protective Services.  When the girls' attorney noticed documents missing in their records request, they sued for violations of the open records laws.   A King County Superior Court judge agreed that DSHS had violate the Public Records Act by improperly withholding records from the girls.  

DSHS maintains that it did not intentionally withhold any records, but that records were missing due to technical errors in response to a voluminous records request.

The payout is the largest sum DSHS has paid in a public records case.

Get more information here

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

American Small Business League to Recoup Legal Fees from the DOJ

Now that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has dropped its appeal of a California federal court's legal fees award, the American Small Business League will collect its attorneys' fee award from the Department of Justice.  

The case stemmed from the SBA's denial of the League's request for names of firms receiving small business contracts and the amounts awarded in 2005 and 2006.  The SBA claimed it didn't have records of the names and that the information was stored at the General Services Administration.  The Court found the SBA's argument "curious" and awarded the SBA to hand over the records and pay the League's attorneys fees in May 2008.  

Click here for details on what the League says the records reveal about the Bush administration. 

Florida Professor Sues EPA over FOIA Request for Asbestos Information

Miami-Dade College professor Mario Sanchez is suing the Environmental Protection Agency because it failed to release information about crushed asbestos pipe that was found on city property in 2005.  The property is slated to become the Veteran's Community Park.

Sanchez had filed a FOIA request seeking all EPA documents concerning the Marco Island property from January 2005 to July 31, 2008.  He claims his request was denied because people being investigated by the EPA might be embarrassed if the information becomes public.

The city spokeswoman says there is nothing to substantiate Sanchez's allegations.  

Get the full story here.

Editorial: Higher-Education Foundations Should be Transparent

The Modesto Bee's publisher and president says the funding practices of higher-education foundations should be more transparent.  The non-profit foundations are typically controlled by campus presidents and board members and are funded by donors, and they are not subject to the California Public Records Act.  

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could have increased transparency of these higher-education foundations by enacting Senate Bill 218, but he vetoed it instead.  

Click here for more about how a loan from the Sonoma State University Academic Foundation to one of its board members will cost the school at least $250,000  and could mean reduced student scholarships and campus events for the 2010-11 school year.

Missouri Attorney Sues City Over Open Records Request

Columbia attorney Stephen Wyse has sued the city of Columbia and the Columbia Police Department's custodian of records over an open records request. 

Wyse had requested surveillance video from the Columbia Police Department showing the police lobby and holding area to determine whether the police had inappropriately denied him access to an arrested woman who asked for a lawyer.  

In response to his Sunshine Law request for the video, the police department's custodian of records estimated the cost to be $2,739.73 and said it would take three weeks to organize more than 80 hours of digital footage. 

Wyse responded, saying the city violated the Sunshine Law by inappropriately calculating the cost and for not responding to the request timely.  He received a new estimate for $114.31, covering the cost of burning the footage to DVDs.  After paying the $114.31, Wyse again was told that his request would be honored in three weeks and after he paid the original cost estimate of $2,739.73.  

More here

State Task Force Recommends Office of Open Records for Washington

A task force created by Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic state Auditor Brian Sonntag unanimously recommended the Washington Legislature create a new Office of Open Records to handle public records disputes out of court. The state office would be modeled after the offices created in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.  

Although the task force unanimously recommended the new state office, they disagreed on issues of management and leadership for a new office and any appellate procedures after the state office's decision. The cost of a new office also remains unknown, and could create a large hurdle for the state legislature. Washington faces a budget shortfall of up to $1.7 billion in January.  
Get more information here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New Englanders Favor Open Government

A recent poll commissioned by The New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC) and conducted by the University of New Hampshire's Survey Center shows the vast majority of New Englanders believe having open access to the workings of government is important to citizen and favor strengthening laws to protect access, such as making government agencies pay any legal bills necessary to open public records.  

Among the findings:
  • One in four respondents strongly believe that public business in their community is done out of public view.
  • The majority in the six-state region believe the news media seeks out public information useful to citizens. But one in four people polled disagreed, 14 percent strongly.
  • Most citizens have not asked for a public record in the last 12 months and, of those who did, 87 percent said they got what they asked for. 
  • A plurality of respondents said they were familiar with the workings of their state's open records laws.
  • On the whole, New Englanders are satisfied with the response of state and local government to citizen requests for access, but they remain skeptical of government motives.
Get the full report here and more from NFOIC here. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Arizona is FIrst State to Make Metadata Available for Public Review

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that "if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records law."  The Court did not decide when a public entity must keep information electronically, but if it does, then the entity should provide the native files.  

With its ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court is the first state to rule that metadata is available for public review.  

Metadata is hidden data about data that details a document's creation and revisions, showing when and who made such changes.  

Get more information here and here

Friday, October 30, 2009

White House Visitor Logs Released

Released in a Friday afternoon data drop are the White House Visitor Logs from January 20 - July 31, 2009.  Check it out for yourself here and the Huffington Post link here

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Records in the Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping Case to become Public

A federal judge ruled to make public sealed court docket entries and most hearings related to the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case.  However, competency reports about Brian David Mitchell and records that involve a privacy right of anyone else involved will remain closed. Mitchell is charged with Smart's kidnapping and has been found incompetent to stand trial in state court twice.  A 10-day federal court competency proceeding is scheduled to begin November 30.  

An attorneys for media organizations say the ruling is "good news for access."  Get more information here.

Got a Parking Ticket in Chicago? So Did Everyone Else.

Chicago privatized its parking meter enforcement in February, and records obtained by a FOIA request by The Chicago Tribune show a 26% increase in parking meter violations as compared to last year.  

In the first eight months of 2009, 327,650 tickets were issued for expired meters or overstaying a park-and-display spot.  That's up from fewer than 260,000 tickets in the same time period in 2008.

The tickets have brought the city $7 million more in revenue.  

More here

Rating the Responsiveness of Florida School Districts

Non-profit Sunshine Review recently conducted its Back-to-School guide for parents regarding the responsiveness of the state's school systems.  Although they found some exceptional cases like Orange County Public Schools, it also found instances where the records were difficult to obtain either because of cryptic responses, expensive costs, and bureaucratic attitudes. 

Check out the details here


Monday, October 26, 2009

AP Seeks Video of Stinger Grenade Explosion in Prison Cell

The Associated Press filed suit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections for its refusal to release a 2005 video showing a stinger grenade exploding inside a prisoner's cell after a guard dropped it.

The Department refused the open records request on grounds that the tape would jeopardize the security and safety of inmates and staff at the prison.  

Get more information here

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Loud Music as an Interrogation Technique

On behalf of the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, the National Security Archive in Washington is filing a FOI request seeking classified records that detail the use of loud music as an interrogation device. 

The Associated Press reports that documents and interviews with former detainees reveal that music from AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee Gees, and Marilyn Manson was used to block communication between detainees.  Critics say the music was also used to humiliate, terrify, punish, disorient and deprive detainees of sleep, violating international law.  

Get more information here

SEC to Consider Public Information Requests

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will consider three proposals to shed more light on non-public trading entities, including dark pools.  Dark pools match big stock order privately.  

The proposals would require dark pools to make information about an investor's interest in buying or selling a stock available to the public and to publicly identify if their pool executes a trade.  

Check out the article from the Wall Street Journal. 

The Washington Post Asks: Do we have a right to know the central bank's inner workings?

In this article, The Washington Post poses a question examining the scope of public inquiry into the inner workings of the Federal Reserve Board, especially with respect to two pending issues.  First is the legislation sponsored by Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a bill that would require annual audits of the Fed's monetary policy-making and short-term lending.  Second is the litigation brought by Bloomberg News for access to the Fed's data on crisis lending under the FOIA.  

What do you think?  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oklahoma Supreme Court Decision Troubles Open Records Advocates

A ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court effectively carves out an exception to the state's Open Records Act by forbidding the release of all the state's electronic case information under the state Open Records Act.  The ruling also affirms public access to electronic court records on a case-by-case basis.  

The Court rejected the bulk data request of INAD Data Services LLC for electronic copies of all district court and workers' compensation court case information.  

Controversy started brewing when it came to light that another company, KellPro Inc. has a $1 million contract with the state Supreme Court to get electronic court records from 64 counties ready for a unified system of public access on the Web. 

State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) criticized the Court for contracting with one private company to provide data while simultaneously cutting off access to other companies.  

Get more details here

Evaluating the Senate's Passage of the Open FOIA Act

The Senate's passage of the Open FOIA Act presents a mixed bag.   It's disappointing that the Senate exempted photos showing detainee treatment under U.S. force's control, adding yet another exemption to the 240 already written into the law.  On the other hand, the bill requires the invocation of any future FOIA exemptions to cite the specific part of the act that permits them, making it easier to identify and debate those proposed exemptions.  

For more information, click here

Virginians Want Ethics Investigations Made Public

According to a poll of 506 likely voters conducted by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University between October 8 - 13, more than 80% of likely voters say an appointed citizens review panel for ethical complaints against legislators should be made public.

Under current law, the five-member panel investigates in private.  If the panel determines a violation has occurred, the compliant is made public.  If the panel dismisses the panel, the complaint remains private unless the legislator chooses to make it public.  The October poll showed less than 10% of the likely voters polled support the current law.

For more information, click here

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Eight Months of Obama White House Visitor Logs Still Guarded

The White House settled a lawsuit with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and announced last month that it would voluntarily publish White House visitor logs on its website beginning December 31.  So one might except that the Obama administration would release similar records to other public interest groups in the meantime.

Not so.  Through the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service said White House visitor logs fall under the Presidential Records Act, and thus are not subject to disclosure under the FOIA because they don't originate with a federal agency.  The Secret Service denied the request of judicial watchdog group, Judicial Watch, for visitor log records from January 20  - September 15.

Judicial Watch issued a press release expressing its intent to continue to seek release of the records in question.  

More here.  

Congress Expected to Pass Bill Permitting Defense Department to Suppress Evidence of its Misconduct

Congress is expected to pass an amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill this week that will allow the Defense Department to suppress evidence of its own misconduct.  The amendment has passed the House and is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) proposed the amendment in response to an appellate court decision requiring the Defense Department to release photos of Afghan and Iraqi prisoner abuse, stemming from a 2003 FOIA request filed by the ACLU.  

More from the LA Times here.

Update: U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Release of Referendum 71 Petitioners

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has temporarily blocked Washington state officials from releasing the Referendum 71 ballot petitions.  Referendum 71 is a ballot initiative asking Washington voters to approve or reject the state's law that grants domestic partners the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.   

Kennedy's order will remain in effect while he considers a request by a pro-marriage group that asked him to reverse the appellate court ruling, which had order the names released.  

Get more information here

Follow-Up: Nearly 3,000 PIN Messages Released in Florida

Following the revelation that public service commission aides had given their PIN access codes to a Florida Power & Light attorney, the Herald/Times obtained email records and instant messages of staff and commissioners at Florida's utility regulator. PIN messages allow the senders to bypass state servers.  

 Of the nearly 3,000 messages obtained, more than 2,400 are from Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano.  Argenziano's seemingly stream-of-consciousness messages reveal her distrust of fellow commissioners.  Because Argenziano has been an outspoken critic of the PSC, Associated Industries of Florida has questioned her impartiality in a rate case and have called for the agency's inspector general to investigate her.  

Get more details here

Bad Obama -- Health Care Negotiations Taking Place Behind Closed Doors

Despite campaign promises to reform health care in the sunlight of public scrutiny, Obama's allowing health care legislation negotiations to take place behind closed doors.  Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as well as top White House aides are trying to merge competing versions of the legislation into one bill.

Republicans and open government advocates are upset by the secretive process.

More here.

FOI at Work: The Washington Post Investigates AIDS Organizations in DC

Check out this investigation undertaken by The Washington Post:

"Over ten months, the Washington Post analyzed the spending, services, and finances of every specialized AIDS organization funded by D.C.'s HIV/AIDS Administration from 2004-2008, an estimated 90 groups, building a database from tax returns, audits, lawsuits, real estate records, D.C. Council records, and corporate and police reports. The Post also obtained grant agreements, invoices and government correspondence for about 60 of these groups. The newspaper interviewed dozens of people with HIV or AIDS patients, their families and service providers, and visited more than a dozen offices across the city."

Take Two - Texas Public Officials Will Try to Challenge Texan Open Meetings Act

At least 20 Texas public officials are expected to file a suit in federal court in the West Texas city of Pecos, asserting the state's Open Meetings Act violates their right to free speech.  

The open meetings act prevents a quorum of government officials from deliberating in secret and carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a similar lawsuit for lack of standing as the plaintiffs were no longer in office.  The  attorney for the anticipated suit says they've cured the standing problem because the 20 officials who will be plaintiffs are current public officials.

Get more info here

No Right to Access Judicial Records or Investigations in Washington

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that state open records laws do not extend to judicial records or investigations into allegations of judicial misconduct.  

The case centered on a February 2008 public records request seeking records and correspondence related to the resignation of Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Colleen Hartl. While the city provided some documentation, it refused to release the correspondence of the presiding judge relating to the investigation.   

For more on this decision, click here

Florida State Releases Academic Fraud Investigation Files

Following a favorable ruling for The Associated Press and other news-media organizations, Florida State released a 695-page transcript on an N.C.A.A. hearing regarding an academic fraud case spanning 2006 and 2007 and involving 61 athletes across 10 sports.   

The transcript included the testimony of the university president, T.K. Wetherell, as well as university professors and administrators, and Brenda Monk, a learning specialist hired to work with Florida State athletes with learning and physical disabilities.  In the transcript, Wetherell apologized for the actions of a "rogue tutor" and an instructor.  Wetherell also minimized the blame placed upon the athletes, who were found to have received answers to test questions and allowed tutors to type and write their papers.  Monk has since left the university and has filed a defamation suit against Florida State.  

As a result of the investigation, the N.C.A.A. put Florida State on probation, reduced scholarships, and revoked the record of all wins in which the affected athletes participated.  The school is appealing the vacating of the wins, but has accepted the remaining sanctions.  

Get the NY Times article here, which includes a link to the transcript of the N.C.A.A. hearing.  

Follow Up: Ninth Circuit Orders Release of Referendum 71 Petitions in Washington

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a Thurston County Superior Court judge granting a temporary restraining order against Sam Reed concerning compliance with a public records request for copies of past initiative petitions, saying that order relied upon an incorrect legal standard.  That means the Washington's Referendum 71 petitions must be released pursuant to a public records request.   

Referendum 71 is an effort to overturn a Washington bill granting state registered domestic partners all rights, responsibilities and obligations granted or imposed by state law on married couples.

Click here for the Ninth Circuit's order.  

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reaction to Lessig's "Against Transparency" Argument

Responses keep coming to Lessig's New Republic article, "Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government." 

Carl Malamud urges caution and a measured response to the title of Lessig's article.  Malamud argues Lessig isn't against transparency per se, but against transparency "with no broader and deeper aims, [which] will no automatically produce good results, and may indeed produce randomness in our government or far worse."

Other commentators agree that the title to Lessig's article misses the mark, arguing that Lessig is truly against accountability and "that the subject of his concern is not openness in government; it is openness in politics."

Release of Washington Referendum 71 Initiative Signatures Stayed Pending Appeal

Until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hears the dispute over Referendum 71, an effort to overturn a bill granting state registered domestic partners all rights, responsibilities and obligations granted or imposed by state law on married couples, state election officials cannot release the signatures and addresses of the people who signed 11 statewide initiatives ruled Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks.

The Olympian reports:  "Hicks said there is a clear conflict between the state Supreme Court's likely interpretation of state public-records law and what U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle ruled last month in the dispute over releasing names and signatures of voters who signed Referendum 71."

Get the full report here

Michigan Coach Backs Off Best-Ever Boasts, Citing No Data

Earlier this year, Michigan coach Rich Rodriquez had boasted that the football team would break a record for the highest overall team GPA for a semester this year.  But he's had to back off those claims after the Free Press requested details under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, saying that the all-time GPA record isn't know to him or anyone at the university because the university doesn't maintain any such records.  

Rodriquez said his earlier comments were based upon an estimate of the all-time record team GPA, not an actual calculation.  Rodriquez blamed unnamed academic advisers within the athletic department for not telling him the numbers were estimations.

Click here for more. 

Bush Administration Document Evidencing 2007 "Endangerment Finding" Released

The Environmental Protection Agency released a 2007 report called the "endangerment finding" written by Bush administration officials that concluded that the government should begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions because global warming posed serious risks to the country.  The Bush administration refused to make the report public because it opposed new governmental efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

The report was released pursuant to a FOIA request by the environmental trade publication Greenwire.   

Get more information here

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

They Say He's the Most Secretive Texas Governor (Hint: It's Not George Bush)

Texas Governor Rick Perry is being called the most secretive modern-day governor Texas has seen.  

The Dallas Morning News reports on Perry's latest public records squabble -- his refusal to release documents he reviewed before the July 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.   Perry has also fought to keep his itinerary private under the guise of security concerns and has his staff on a tight document retention schedule wherein e-mails are destroyed every seven days. 

For more on the Willingham case and its political implications for Perry, click here.  

Poof! Making Virtual Information Disappear

A team of University of Washington computer scientists have developed a system to make electronic communications, like e-mail, Facebook posts and chat messages, automatically self-destruct and become irretrievable.  Much better than any "delete" button, the program would remove content from all websites, inboxes, outboxes, backup site and home computers. 

The prototype is called Vanish, and it would place a time limit on text uploaded to any website through a web browser.  

Get more details about the project here

Stimulus Money Spent on Low Priority Projects for the FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration keeps track of its priority projects through a national priority rating system, but records show that more than $270 million in stimulus grants awarded by the FAA have gone to low-priority projects.  Among the low-priority projects receiving stimulus money: a $1.85 million terminal expansion project at Idaho's Pocatello Regional Airport, $2.5 million for mobile firefighting training equipment in Virginia, and $1 million to improve baggage handling at an Illinois airport that services cargo planes.

Get more information here

Virginia Coalition for Open Government Award Winners

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government announced its awards earlier this week.  

Carol Lindstrom of Christiansburg won the Laurence E. Richardson award for individual contributions resulting from her work to create a website for the town of Christiansburg based upon documents she obtained through FOIA requests.  Lindstrom also posts audio and video recordings of Town Council, Planning Commission, and other meetings.  

For a full list of the winners, click here

An Argument Against Transparency

Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig brings us this really interesting article about transparency, and specifically about his concerns about the long-term consequences about transparency.   

Lessig argues "pathological transparency" or "naked transparency" alone will doom our democracy, much as it has our music industry as well as print and investigative journalism organizations.  The result of "naked transparency," writes Lessig is:  "The most cynical will be the most salient.  Limited attention span will assure that the most salient is the most stable.  Unwarranted conclusions will be drawn, careers will be destroyed, alienation will grow."

Read the whole article here