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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

EPA Database Reveals Tainted Water in Schools

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that an Associated Press investigation of water in schools revealed thousands of schools across the nation with unsafe levels of  lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins.

"The AP analyzed an EPA database showing federal drinking water violations from 1998 to 2008 in schools with their own water supplies. The findings:

Water in about 100 school districts and 2,250 schools breached federal safety standards.

Those schools and districts racked up more than 5,550 separate violations. In 2008, the EPA recorded 577 violations, up from 59 in 1998 - an increase that officials attribute mainly to tougher rules.

California, which has the most schools of any state, also recorded the most violations with 612, followed by Ohio (451), Maine (417), Connecticut (318) and Indiana (289).

Nearly half the violators in California were repeat offenders. One elementary school in Tulare County, in the farm country of the Central Valley, broke safe-water laws 20 times.

The most frequently cited contaminant was coliform bacteria, followed by lead and copper, arsenic and nitrates."

Get the complete report here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What Did the Austin School District Want in a New Superintendent?

Answers can be found in documents and notes produced pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act. While state law allows school districts to withhold superintendent candidate names, the Texas Attorney General said Austin could not withhold records by arguing that the documents would lead to a candidate's identification.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that, as of July 2009, the school district had spent $20,000 trying to keep the documents private, arguing that secrecy was necessary to preserve the district's ability to conduct superintendent searches that would "attract the maximum number of good candidates."

More here.

Recalcitrant Officials Stymie Public Records Requests in Massachusetts

The Boston Globe brings us this story of the frustrations of dealing with obfuscatory officials who evade public records laws by charging exorbitant fees or by unreasonable delay.

Here is an excerpt, showing how the state's laws make it easy it is for Massachusetts officials to evade the open records laws:

Jon Albano, a First Amendment lawyer with Bingham McCutchen who frequently represents the Globe in battles for public records, said the lack of an enforcement mechanism in Massachusetts allows officials to virtually ignore Galvin’s demands.

“They don’t have to comply with his orders, so they treat them like advisory opinions,’’ Albano said. “Across the state, government officials really and truly do not take the public records law as seriously as they take their other responsibilities.’’

Albano said enforcement of the law would be enhanced by a streamlined process for hearing public records disputes in the courts.

Indeed, with no power to fine or otherwise discipline uncooperative officials, Galvin must rely on the attorney general’s office, which is often reluctant to take action against state agencies in public records cases, perhaps because the office represents those same agencies in other legal matters.

And if the attorney general declines to act, those stymied in their request for public records must rely on the courts, where the cost of filing a lawsuit may be prohibitive and the time it takes to obtain a decision may render the value of the information moot.

Wisconsin One Step Closer to a Reporter's Shield Law

The Wisconsin Assembly passed the Whistleblower Protection Act, which is the state's first shield law for reporters.

From the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The Wisconsin bill, which would offer a qualified privilege for reporters and their confidential sources, would be the 38th state-level shield law if enacted. But before the Wisconsin bill becomes law, it must also pass in the state senate and obtain the governor's signature. Gov. Jim Doyle is generally supportive of the idea but hasn't reviewed the bill yet, the Associated Press reported.

More here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Holder Announces DOJ Policies re: State Secrets Privilege

Attorney General Eric Holder today released new policies and procedures for the Department of Justice regarding the invocation of the state secrets privilege in litigation. The policies go into effect on October 1.

The policies are designed to "strengthen public confidence that the U.S. Government will invoke the privilege in court only when genuine and significant harm to national defense or foreign relations is at stake and only to the extent necessary to safeguard those interests."

Under the new policies, the Justice Department will not defend an assertion of the privilege from a government department or agency without the personal approval of the Attorney General. It also establishes a State Secrets Review Committee comprised of senior DOJ officials designated by the Attorney General.

When seeking to invoke the privilege, the department or agency must make a sufficient showing that the privilege is necessary to protect information that could lead to significant harm to national defense or foreign relations.

The new policies announce that the Justice Department will not invoke the privilege to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; to prevent embarrassment; to restrain competition; or to delay the release of information undeserving of the state secrets privilege.
More from the Washington Post here and The Hill here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mississippi Ethics Commission to Clarify State Public Records Law

The eight-member Mississippi Ethics Commission intends to adopt a set of rules to clarify the state public records law, which the Commission's executive director describes as "skeletal." The Commission hopes the rules will provide guidance and consistency for how the laws are applied throughout the state.

Get the article here, and for the proposed public ethics rules, click here.

Tightening the EMS Information Laws in South Carolina

Four state legislators from South Carolina have vowed to support a change in state law that would open public access to local EMS data to help improve oversight of those departments. Last month, the S.C. Attorney General's Office said that information regarding EMS operations, including ambulance response times, cannot be made public, citing to patient privacy concerns.

IslandPacket.com reports:

The current law, which took effect five years ago, is "broader than it needs to be," said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. "We need to err on the side of transparency in oversight of government."

"There are some legitimate restrictions on data, such as patients' names and specific medical conditions, said Davis, who had not been elected when the law passed. "We have to protect those, but also be careful not to throw the baby out with bath water and provide no transparency. The law needs to be more narrowly drawn."

Get the full story here.

Trying to Keep Up with Technology

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's trying to keep pace with technology. Following the scandal surrounding three members of the Florida Public Service Commission who gave their Blackberry PIN numbers to lobbyists, which could mean communications sent outside the state record-keeping channels, McCollum proposed a measure encouraging state agencies to begin capturing any state-related communications that staff or officials receive via text messages.

For more information, click here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Green Bay Must Yield Redacted Legal Invoices to Newspaper

A Wisconsin judge ordered the city of Green Bay to turn over redacted legal invoices to the Green Bay Press-Gazette in response to an open records request by the paper. The newspaper had requested legal invoices paid by the city for all outside legal counsel worked in 2007 and 2008.

The city had initially provided only a summary of the work preformed by the city by outside law firms and the amounts paid to them and objected to producing the invoices saying they contained attorney-client privileged information.

Brown County Circuit Court Judge J.D. McKay ordered the city to produce the bills by October 2 with the confidential or attorney-client privileged information redacted.

For more, click here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Computer Forensics Experts Investigate Whether Boston Mayor's Office Violated Public Records Laws

After a senior aide to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino produced only 18 emails in response to a Boston Globe request spawning a six-month period, an independent computer forensics specialist is examining the computer and software to help determine if the mayor's office violated public records laws.

For more information, click here.

U.S. Intelligence Costs Revealed

For the first time, the overall costs of U.S. government and military intelligence has been disclosed - $75 billion a year.

The Washington Post reports:

The $75 billion figure incorporated spending by the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, referred to collectively as the national intelligence program (NIP), as well as amounts spent by the Pentagon on so-called military intelligence program (MIP) activities in support of troops in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, officials said.

Under pressure from Congress and advocacy groups, the U.S. government has taken some steps in recent years to open its books on some intelligence spending.

Get the article here.

Wisconsin Decides Whether Personal Emails Are Public Records

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a case in November that decides whether personal emails of public employees are subject to the state's open records laws. The case stems from the request of a private citizen who wanted to know if public school teachers were violating school policy by using work email to discuss school board elections. When asked for email messages "from the computer [the teachers] use[d] during their school work day," teachers objected to providing emails of a purely personal nature. The Court must decide whether the public interest in disclosure trumps the privacy and "reputational" rights of Wisconsin citizens.

More here.

So What Exactly is "Systemic Risk"?

A recently-filed lawsuit seeks to an answer to this question. Plaintiff Vern McKinley is suing the FDIC and the Federal Reserve to get answers to his FOIA requests on last year's bailouts. The Wall Street Journal reports on McKinley's efforts:

Last December, Mr. McKinley sent a FOIA request to the Fed to find out what Fed governors meant when they said a Bear Stearns failure would cause a "contagion." This term was used in the publicly-released minutes of the Fed meeting at which the central bank discussed plans by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to finance Bear's sale to J.P. Morgan Chase. The minutes contained only the vague warning of doom, without any detail on how exactly the fall of Bear would destroy America. Mr. McKinley's request sought the supporting documents for this conclusion.

He also requested minutes of the autumn FDIC board meeting at which regulators approved financing for a Citigroup takeover of Wachovia. To provide this assistance, the board had to invoke the "systemic risk" exception in the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, and therefore had to assert that such assistance was necessary for the health of the financial system. Yet days later, Wachovia cut a better deal to sell itself to Wells Fargo, instead of Citi. So how necessary was the FDIC's offer of assistance?

After Mr. McKinley sued the agency this summer, the FDIC coughed up a previously undisclosed staff memo to the FDIC board. Again, the agency redacted the substance, providing roughly two pages of text from the nine-page original. The section of the memo titled "Systemic Risk" was entirely erased. As for the Fed, it blew off Mr. McKinely's initial request and has since responded mainly with some highly uninformative letters from the Fed staff to Congress.

More here.

Visiting Dignitaries Cost Floridians

The Miami Herald reports that Floridians picked up a $300,000 tab for security and protection costs of visiting dignitaries for the fiscal year ending June 30. Part of a reciprocal agreement with other states to guarantee the protection of high-profile leaders, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials say the state's costs are so high because it's a popular destination spot.

Floridians paid $10,664 for Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry to attend a family friend's wedding last summer and the BCS Championship football game in January. They also paid $6,300 for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's four visits to the Sunshine State.

More here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Open Records Victory in Kentucky

The Kentucky Open Government Blog reports on the victory of Kentucky New Era reporter Sarah Hogsed who had filed a records request for restaurant inspection reports with the Pennyrile District Health Department.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said the health department subverted the intent of the Open Records Act and took the opportunity to clarify Kentucky law on open records, as reported by the blog:

The opinion said the district's excuse for the delay – absence of staff – was not sufficient. The opinion added “in the interest of absolute clarity,” that those who ask for public records cannot be required to submit their requests on preprinted forms, or sign forms in the presence of an agency employee; that receipt of records no longer requires on-site inspection; that agencies may recover only their actual costs of reproducing public records, not including staff time, if the records are to be used for a noncommercial purpose, including use by a newspaper or periodical. The department had indicated that it considered the paper a commercial interest. "We suppose the notion that the news media act in the public interest had escaped the health department," the opinion said.

Is Obama's Open Government Initiative Technologically Feasible?

Obama's open government directive will include a schedule for data distribution in formats that are machine-readable, says the Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.

But some e-government interest groups say that's unrealistic because most agency data exists in PDF format, which is not machine-readable and from which data cannot be easily extracted.

That makes the transfer of legacy data difficult, but one e-government advocate says newly created data could be stored in a new PDF/A version that is more suitable for long-term preservation.

For more information, click here.

Oh Come On... From the You-Can't-Be-Serious Files Comes This Absurdity from Oregon

Check out this blog post -- It reports the absurdity of the Oregon attorney general's claim of copyright protection over a state-produced guide to using public records.

Let's see if the AG has the gall to go after Professor Bill Harbaugh of the University of Oregon, who has posted a copy of the guidebook on his website!

EMS Data Off Limits, According to South Carolina AG Opinion

Ambulance response times and other details on EMS operations can't be made available to the public because of patient privacy concerns, says a recent opinion from the South Carolina Attorney General interpreting a state statute.

The non-binding of the AG has already prompted one state senator, Sen. Harvey Peeler Jr. (R-Cherokee), to draft a new bill that would make much EMS data available to the public.

The AG opinion has also drawn the ire of freedom of information advocates who say ambulance response times is public information vital for oversight of the EMS's system performance.

Read the Island Packet article here.

September 22 - Terror Media Event at the International Spy Museum

On Tuesday, September 22, at 6:30 p.m., the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC presents "Terror Media: Free Speech or Dangerous Weapon?"

Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the PKK, and others have used their own media outlets to glorify suicide bombings, incite violence, recruit terrorists, and fundraise online. Should governments shut down terror media or shield it as "protected free speech?" And how can new media be used against violent extremists? The distinguished panel exploring these issues will include: Juan Zarate, former deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism and former assistant secretary of the Treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes; Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has helped shut down Hezbollah and other terrorist owned-media around the world; Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who has spoken out in support of free speech regardless of viewpoint; and Todd Stein, legislative director for Senator Lieberman, and author of the congressional document exposing how terrorist organizations use online media.

Best of all, event sponsors are offering readers of the FOI Advocate blog a discounted ticket price! For more information and to purchase a ticket, click here. As a benefit of your readership, enter “007member” when purchasing your ticket to receive a discount.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Federal Reserve Ordered to Disclose Recipients of Emergency Loans

Bloomberg LP won a FOIA suit against the Federal Reserve System for disclosure of the financial firms it lent to or disclose the amounts or the assets put up as collateral under emergency lending programs.

In ordering the Fed Reserve to comply with the FOIA request, the court accepted Bloomberg's arguments that U.S. taxpayers need to know the terms of Fed lending because the public became an “involuntary investor” in the nation’s banks as the government began shoring up companies with capital injections and loans. The court rejected the central bank's argument that loan records aren’t covered by the law because their disclosure would harm borrowers’ competitive positions.

For more information, click here.

FOI at Work -- How Federal Funds Are Wasted in California

California Watch, a reporting unit of the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting, culled thousands of pages of documents and found a multitude of "wasteful spending, purchasing violations, error-prone accounting and shoddy oversight" at California agencies during the years immediately following 9/11. Critics say all the money didn't result in a safer California either.

The group fears the same shoddiness will plague state use of federal economic stimulus money if there isn't any proper oversight of the use of the funds.

Get the extensive report here.

A Kentucky Bill Would Make State Retirement Benefits Trigger Open Records Compliance

From the Kentucky Open Government Blog comes this report about Kentucky Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, who has pre-filed a bill that would make any organization whose employees get state retirement benefits subject to the Kentucky Open Records Act.

The bill stems from two organizations who claimed they were exempt from the open records act even though they receive more than 25 percent of their budgets from public funds, the law's threshold for public inspection.

An Update - Appealing the Decision Withholding the Names of Supporters for Referendum 71

Washington State says it will appeal the decision of a federal judge to block the release of the names of supporters for Referendum 71, which is described as an effort to overturn the state's "everything but marriage" same-sex domestic partner law.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna will ask for an expedited review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. McKenna criticized the ruling as "a step away from open government."

For more information, see the seattlepi.com article here and the Seattle Times article here.

Here's another article from thestranger.com.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Birth Dates Battle at the Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding whether the birth dates of approximately 145,000 state workers are public records. The case stems from a 2005 request from The Dallas Morning News for an updated state payroll database. The Texas Comptroller refused to provide the birth dates for the state workers, arguing the release of birth dates could lead to identity theft. Open records advocates note that such information is available from other public records, including voter registration polls.

The case is Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts vs. Attorney General of Texas and The Dallas Morning News. For more information, click here.

Update - Florida Public Service Commission to Face Grand Jury Investigation

Following up with a story we told you about the potential PIN-to-PIN messaging being used by Florida utility executives and Public Service Commission (PSC) members to avoid a paper trail, the Miami Herald reports a PSC lobbyist resigned in the midst of the controversy and Commissioner Nancy Argenziano has called for a grand jury investigation into any influence on the PSC from utility companies.

Get the full scoop here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In New Mexico, Emails About Public Business are Public Information Regardless of Account Used

Emails between the mayor and city councilors of Las Vegas have been released following a ruling by the New Mexico Attorney General. The attorney general 's office stated that emails regarding "public business" are "public information," even if the emails were sent by officials using a private computer, and thus, are subject to disclosure.

Click here for more information.

University of Iowa Faculty Not Subject to Open Meeting Law

After consulting with the University of Iowa General Counsel's Office and the Iowa Attorney General, a University of Iowa faculty leader said faculty government meetings are not subject to the Iowa Open Meeting law.

The question arose during an August state Board of Regents meeting when regents questioned the use of closed-door session by faculty government and whether the state open meeting statute applied.

Some professors disagree with the use of executive or closed sessions.

For more information, click here.

Open Meetings Law Stands in Fifth Circuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Dallas (Fifth Circuit) dismissed as moot a challenge to the Texas Open Meetings Act, holding that the plaintiff lacked proper standing to sue. In the case, former city council members had asserted the law violated their rights to exchange e-mail messages discussing city business in secret.

For more on the procedural history of the case and the dissenting opinion of judge James L. Dennis, please see the article from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Information about Wisconsin Judges and District Attorneys Kept Secret

A change to a bill intended to increase government transparency does the opposite with regard to information about property owned by Wisconsin judges and district attorneys.

The Wisconsin Assembly's Committee on Judiciary and Ethics approved the change to the bill, which allows the state Government Accountability Board to post annual economic interest statements of public officials online.

But the property information of judges and district attorneys would be kept secret on grounds of safety concerns.

Members of the public seeking the annual economic interest statements must provide their names and addresses when making the request.

Read the full story from the Journal Sentinel here.

FOIA Request Shows Gaps in ICE Detention Records

Based on records obtained by the Associated Press through FOIA requests, the Washington Post reports that think tank Migration Policy Institute has identified several gaps in the record-keeping of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

These gaps include:

* whether an immigrant must be detained;
* whether a detainee is dangerous;
* whether a detainee might have a claim to U.S. citizenship; and
* whether a immigrant has a special medical condition or mental health issues.

The think tank also says ICE's database should include answers to procedural questions that would ensure the federal government is not holding the immigrants indefinitely.

Open Government Directive Coming Soon...

Just another few weeks, says the government's first CTO, Aneesh Chopra, regarding a new open government directive.

The first step of the directive will be a mandate for federal agencies to enact structural changes so that open government principles become part of their "institutional fabric," reports internetnews.com.

Additionally, the directive will ask agencies t bring more data online and in a machine-readable format, as opposed to PDFs.

Get the full report here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

FOIA Request Reveals Contradictory Evidence to ODNI's Statement that Iran is Assisting the Taliban

From the Asia Times Online comes a report from Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy, that a statement made by the head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Dennis Blair, may be incorrect.

The Federation of American Scientists released Blair's February 12, 2009 testimony responses to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the Freedom of Information Act on July 30. In support of the assertion that Iran is supporting the Taliban, Blair cited a statement by a Taliban commander attributing military success against NATO forces to Iran.

Gareth's reporting details how the evidence from the U.S. Department of Defense, Canadian forces in Afghanistan, and the Taliban contradicts the Taliban commander, instead suggesting that increased damage to NATO tanks stems from anti-tank mines provided by the U.S. to the jihadi movement against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Please read the full report for more information.

Two Different Approaches to Email Use During City Council Meetings

First, let's start with an example of what not to do, brought to us by Seattle's komonews.com:

A Kirkland City, Washington city council member has admitted to using city email for personal use, including lewd conversations with his girlfriend. Discovered during a records request from conservative watchdog group, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, Bob Sternoff's emails reveal he was having racy conversations with his girlfriend while city council was in session.

The Kirkland City council voted to have a law firm investigate the emails, but they could stand a lesson from South Haven in southwest Michigan.

South Haven City Clerk Amanda Morgan addressed the City Council regarding the need for a new policy regarding electronic communications during meetings, including emails between council members and city residents.

In an effort to comply with the spirit of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, the proposed new policy is to discourage email use during the meetings and to use an "office assistant" feature to direct incoming emails to the city clerk during city meetings. Others suggest the policy doesn't go far enough and that emailing during a public meeting should be outlawed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

2009 Secrecy Report Card

Hot off the presses -- OpenTheGovernment.org released its 2009 Secrecy Report Card today. It details slight decreases in secrecy across a variety of indicators during the last year of the Bush-Cheney administration. It also provides a six-month overview of the Obama administration's track record on openness issues as well as a section on financial transparency during the economy crisis.

Highlights include:

• Almost $200 Spent Creating and Securing Old Secrets for Every Tax Dollar Spent Declassifying
The government spent nearly $200 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one
dollar the government spent declassifying documents in 2008, a 2% increase in one year. At
the same time, 16% fewer pages were declassified than in 2008.

• Reported Invocations of the "States Secrets" Privilege Continue to Rise
Invoked only 6 times between 1953 and 1976, the privilege has been used a reported 48
times—an average of 6 times per year in 8 years (through 2008)—more than double the aver-
age (2.46) in the previous 24 years.

• President Bush Surpassed All Presidents Since Kennedy in Assertions of Executive Privilege
President G.W. Bush asserted Executive Privilege 6 times in response to congressional re-
quests, as of August 21, 2008.

• 2,083 Orders of the Secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
The Department of Justice reported that, in 2008, the FISC approved 2,083 orders—rejecting
one and approving two left over from the previous year.

Get the complete report here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

PIN-to-PIN Communication to Skirt Sunshine Laws

Three aides to a Florida utility regulators repeatedly sent private PIN-to-PIN Blackberry codes to an utility executive, which could allow the utility to communicate with the regulators out of public view and without a paper trail.

A St. Petersburg Times blog states:

"State law prohibits PSC commissioners from discussing a pending rate case with utility officials but it specifically excludes PSC staff from the ban. A 1991 grand jury report recommended that the statute be changed to close that loophole but it was never amended.

PSC rules forbid staffers and commissioners from discussing certain types of commission business out of the public eye with those who appear before the regulatory panel. Under state law, a commissioner who engages in such discussions -- called 'ex parte communications' -- and who fail to report them could face a $5,000 fine and even removal."

For the full report, click here.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Three Articles Regarding the Obama Administration's Efforts Toward Transparency

During his campaign, Obama pledged to run the most transparent administration in history. Nextgov.com reports that open government advocates are criticizing the administration's efforts in fulfilling this campaign promise, saying the administration is placing too much emphasis on building websites rather than publishing information.

But, in a break with previous administrations, the Obama administration will release the names of visitors to the White House beginning in mid-September, reports USA Today.

The Secret Service will disclose electronic visitor logs, including the names of the visitors and who set up the meeting as well as where it was held and for how long within within three to four months of the visit. Information relating to cases of national security, extreme confidentiality or strictly personal visits to the first family would not be released.

"We will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside," Obama said. "Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process."

Archon Fung, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, offers his views on how the administration should go about fulfilling the campaign promise.

Open Government Advocates Oppose Exempting Terrorist Identity Information from the Freedom of Information Act

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and nine other open government advocates are asking the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to strike a provision from the Intelligence Reauthorization Act of 2010 that would exempt all terrorist identity information (TII) from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The organizations say the provision is redundant of an existing Executive Order and is overbroad in its reach.

Read the full story here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oklahoma City Refuses to Release Employee Birth Dates, Citing Identity Theft Concerns

In what one open government expert calls "absurd" and a misinterpretation of a law designed to prevent the state Public Safety Department from releasing their driver's license records, Oklahoma City officials denied the request of The Oklahoman for a city employee's date of birth. In denying the request, the city cited two exceptions to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, which prevent the disclosure of "personal information within driver records" and records that "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

Open records advocates criticize the city's refusal, saying there is no statistical or anecdotal evidence showing public records are a source for identity thieves. Experts also note that the information sought is not private because it can be located in other public records.

For the complete story, click here.

Criminals Denied Public Records Based on Motivation

Twice last week government agencies in Washington did not have to fill the public records requests of criminals or those accused, according to The Daily Weekly.

In the most recent instance, King County Jail nurses won a court order to prevent two men accused of murder from getting access to their full names and other personnel records that would normally be available to the public.

The first instance related to the records-requesting efforts of inmate Allan Parmalee, which King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson ruled were "made to harass and intimidate the agencies to which the requests were submitted and the public employees who are the subjects of the requests." Robinson also said Parmalee's requests "would likely threaten the safety of public employees, officials, and their families."

The government's success in the Parmalee matter derives from a new state law allowing the agency to attempt to block the records request of a convicted criminal serving jail time if the requests appear to be made for the purpose of harassing or harming someone.

Tackling Open Records on the Gridiron

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples is trying to collect the weekly ballots of the 51 public school coaches who vote in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Last spring, the American Football Coaches Association ruled to keep the poll private starting in 2010. The Birmingham News writes:

"The idea is to promote transparency in a poll that makes up one-third of the Bowl Championship Series formula. With help from transparent Harris Poll ballots and computer rankings, the BCS formula determines who plays for the national championship and helps place other teams in multi-million dollar bowl games."

Ge the story here.