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.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

FOI Advocate Blog has moved

Hello, everyone.

We at NFOIC just wanted to inform you that the FOI Advocate has moved and now has a new address.

You can find us at http://www.nfoic.org/blog.

We've enjoyed our time at Blogger, but we're going to try it out on our new site at http://www.nfoic.org/.

Stop by and see us.



Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Former DOJ official: Obama could be forced to release the Osama death photos

from Gawker:
Barack Obama has finally decided against releasing a photo of Osama bin Laden's corpse as proof of his death. But the former chief freedom of information expert for the U.S. government tells Gawker that he may not have that choice.

Up until a few moments ago, when CBS News reported Obama's decision, the Administration had issued mixed signals on whether it intended to release graphic evidence of Osama's demise. CIA director Leon Panetta stated that he expected a photo would eventually be released, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were reportedly opposed. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday that "there are sensitivities here in terms of the appropriateness of releasing photographs of Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of this firefight."

But all the agonizing may have been for naught. According to Daniel Metcalfe, the former chief of the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy—a post that effectively made him the government's top expert in the Freedom of Information Act—the odds are better than even that a FOIA lawsuit seeking the photo's release would succeed.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

WikiLeaks: Guantanamo Bay terrorist secrets revealed

from The Telegraph:
Al-Qaeda terrorists have threatened to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” on the West if Osama Bin Laden is caught or assassinated, according to documents to be released by the WikiLeaks website, which contain details of the interrogations of more than 700 Guantanamo detainees.

However, the shocking human cost of obtaining this intelligence is also exposed with dozens of innocent people sent to Guantanamo – and hundreds of low-level foot-soldiers being held for years and probably tortured before being assessed as of little significance.

The Daily Telegraph, along with other newspapers including The Washington Post, today exposes America’s own analysis of almost ten years of controversial interrogations on the world’s most dangerous terrorists. This newspaper has been shown thousands of pages of top-secret files obtained by the WikiLeaks website.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Report: After Michigan FOIAs, Wayne State takes down labor studies website

from TalkingPointsMemo:

As Wayne State University considers what to do about the Freedom Of Information Act requests Mackinac sent over last month, lawyers at the school have ordered parts of the Labor Studies Center website shut down over concerns from Mackinac that they violate rules against political advocacy with state resources.

The Michigan Information and Research Service News Service reports (sub req'd) that Wayne has pulled down parts of its labor studies dept website while they're "under review by the university's general counsel to make sure they are not running afoul of state law."
Read the rest here.

National security: When secrecy is a weapon

from The Bellingham Herald:
In a recent interview with Newsweek magazine, former CIA lawyer John Rizzo spoke with surprising candor about the CIA's "targeted killing" program. He discussed the scope of the program (about 30 people are on the "hit list" at any given time), the process by which the CIA selects its targets (Rizzo was "the one who signed off") and the methods the CIA uses to eliminate them ("The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head"). In a wide-ranging conversation, Rizzo volunteered details about a highly controversial counterterrorism program that had previously been cloaked in official secrecy.

What was most remarkable about the interview, though, was not what Rizzo said but that it was Rizzo who said it. For more than six years until his retirement in December 2009, Rizzo was the CIA's acting general counsel - the agency's chief lawyer. On his watch the CIA had sought to quash a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by arguing that national security would be harmed irreparably if the CIA were to acknowledge any detail about the targeted killing program, even the program's mere existence.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Open-gov sites likely to stay online under new CR funding

from ExecutiveGov:
The latest proposal for a continuing resolution to come out of the House Appropriations Committee includes $17 million for the Office of Management and Budget’s E-Government program, which administers funds for open-government sites, Federal News Radio reports.

However, while a marked increase from the $2 million previously proposed, it is still a far cry from the $35 million the administration has requested.

However, it will likely be enough to keep running eight open-gov websites slated to go dark in May because of a lack funding.
Read the rest here.

MSU labor prof says university will comply with FOIA

from The Michigan Messenger:
When the Mackinac Center’s requested emails from the labor programs at Wayne State and the University of Michigan, John Beck, Associate Professor and Director of the Labor Education Program at Michigan State University, says his phone started ringing off the hook.

The media, both local and national, wanted to know about Michigan State University’s request from the right wing think tank. Beck, however, didn’t return those calls and e-mails. Why? The university did not receive a request until Thursday.

“I didn’t want to remind them, in case they forgot about us,” Beck told Michigan Messenger with a smile on his face.

Regardless, he says, “We intend to fully comply with the law.” — though the Mackinac Center might be surprised at the response costs.
Read the rest here.

Court orders Chestertown Fire to address FOIL requests

from the North Country Gazette:
CHESTERTOWN, NY —-The Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company has been ordered to show cause why they shouldn’t answer outstanding Freedom of Information Law requests that sought copies of fire company minutes, run sheets, raffle proceeds and other financial information pertaining to fire company operations.

They’ve also been ordered to show cause why they shouldn’t have to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Law and answer future FOIL requests.

On Friday, Warren County Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann signed an order to show cause submitted by Chestertown fire district taxpayers and residents Christine Hayes and June Maxam which directs the fire company and fire chief Jack Crossman to show legal cause why they shouldn’t answer the FOIL requests which they have ignored since last May.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Semantic Web Founding Father Explains Why Americans Should Care About Keeping Open Government Data Alive

from semanticweb.com:
There’s still no official word on how much peril open government data initiatives such as Data.gov may be in. And perhaps to many Americans, the hand-wringing they’ve heard about funding cuts in this area seem trivial when the country is looking at the U.S. public debt nearing its statutory ceiling of about $14.3 trillion. After all, what’s the real applicability of structured government data sets – and projects that translate that data into RDF, hook it up to the Linked Data cloud, and build apps and demos off it – to their lives?

More than they know.
Read the rest here.

'Open' government vow may be undone by red ink

from SFGate.com:
Remember President Obama's vow, in his inaugural speech, to usher in an era of "open and transparent" government?

It's taken a couple of hits of late.

A White House award ceremony last week honoring his "commitment to transparency" was closed to the press, to the surprise and chagrin of the open government organizations that had joined together to present the award. One of the attendees called the press ban "baffling."
Read the rest here.

Assessing Illinois' new open records law: frustration, delays

from the Chicago Tribune:
Frustration from city officials throughout Illinois about an avalanche of records requests – including some they argue are motivated by petty agendas – has prompted dozens of new bills to scale back a new open records law enacted last year. Backed by municipal government lobbyists and opposed by open-records advocates, the proposals would limit the rights of repeat records requestors, add exemptions to such things as gun permits and dates of birth, and allow governments to post records online rather than make copies.
Read the several stories here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sunshine Week news from the states

Sunshine Week Shame: 10 Ways the Government Is Opaque

from Wired.com

As Sunshine Week sets, it's a good time to take a quick inventory of the federal government's ongoing failures of transparency. ...

District spends more than $30,000 on out-of-district travel this year

from The Kansan.com

NEWTON — Editor’s note: This story is part of the Kansan’s coverage for Sunshine Week, which is an event that encourages open government.

Creve Coeur council member wins Sunshine Hero award

from stltoday.com

The Missouri Sunshine Coalition has honored Jeanne Rhoades, a Creve Coeur City Council member, for efforts that promote open records and transparency in government.   

POGO at Sunshine Week Hearing: Bring FOIA Out of the Dark Ages

By Bryan Rahija

In case you missed it amid all the other open gov hullabaloo, late last week POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury shared POGO's views on the state of government openness as a panelist on a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing. You can view footage of her testimony below (starts at the 35:59 mark).

Jonathan Turley, Submitted By Lawrence Rafferty, (rafflaw), Guest Blogger

It wasn’t discussed much in the Corporate Mass Media, but this past week was dubbed, Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week was supposed to celebrate “open Government practices”. I for one, wasn’t convinced that our government had any “open” practices.

Sunshine Week


There have been times in recent years when the Sunshine Law, the name for the open records law in Missouri, has been used purely for political purposes. At both the state and local levels, the Sunshine Law has been used irresponsibly by a few politicians and some media to make life difficult for political foes, usually by skewing context. That's unfortunate.

SUNSHINE WEEK: Digital records outpace state law

Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

The information age has made more government documents available to the public than ever before, but experts say open records laws themselves are behind the times.

Sunshine Week ends – but principle doesn’t

Nashua Telegraph

Sunshine Week is now over – at least officially.

No more stories with the logo depicting the sun peeking out from behind the capitol dome that proclaims: “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know.”

Sunshine Week celebrates openness in government

Joplin Globe

News organizations and watchdog groups across the country are wrapping up Sunshine Week, an initiative designed to highlight the importance of open government. The laws, commonly called sunshine laws, vary among states, but each generally requires that ...

Battles Over Open Government Cast Shadow on 'Sunshine Week'

AOL News

In the middle of Sunshine Week promoting transparency in government, open-government advocates say the apparent demotion of a high-level Department of Homeland Security employee for whistle-blowing is particularly dark. "Our government is sending the ...

Sunshine week coinciding with related court cases

Wisconsin Radio Network

It's been an action packed time for open government during Sunshine Week. Governor Walker's office this week settled a lawsuit brought forth by the Wisconsin Associated Press and Madison weekly newspaper, the Isthmus. ...

Sunshine Week promotes openness in government

Mountain Mail Newspaper

Salidan John Graham has been working to promote open dialogue between citizens and government since about a year ago, when he became board president of Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability. ...

Let the Sunshine In | Peer to Peer Review

Library Journal

It's Sunshine Week, the annual reminder that open government is good for democracy, that information is important, that freedom is protected when people are vigilant about their right to know what our government is up to. Started in 2002 by a Florida ...

Transparency in government: Is it a reality?

Legal Talk Network

Attorneys and co-hosts Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams welcome Mark Rumold, the Open Government Legal Fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Kenneth Bunting, Executive Director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, to take a look inside Sunshine Week. Mark and Ken discuss which states have made the most strides for transparency, if technological advances are helping governments be more transparent and why it is important for government to stay transparent.

MP3 Link: http://websrvr82il.audiovideoweb.com/ny60web16519/LTN/C2C/C2C_031611_SunshineWeek.mp3

Let the Sun Shine in Berkeley Too

The Berkeley Daily Planet

This week is Sunshine Week all over the United States. What, you may ask, is Sunshine Week? It’s sponsored by American Society of Newspaper Editors, joined by the National Freedom of Information Coalition, California’s First Amendment Coalition and many other groups.

Why government's doors must be open

By Ken Paulson, President, First Amendment Center

This is Sunshine Week, a national effort organized by the American Society of News Editors, the news media and open-government advocates. It's an annual reminder of the importance of the free flow of information in a democracy. Taxpayers hire public employees to serve and protect, not to keep secrets from them.

N.C. open records requests can drag on

BY FRED CLASEN-KELLY, Charlotte Observer

Under North Carolina's open records laws, anyone who wants government documents is supposed to get them as soon as possible. But agencies can take weeks, months or even longer to produce public information. The delays often force citizens to rely on persistence or simply luck. Joann Hager, a Lincoln County animal rights activist, has tested the statutes--and two times, she says, they failed her.

Sunshine Week highlights threats to open government

by Frank Gibson, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

Sunshine Week, which kicked off Sunday, started almost a decade ago when 150 proposals in the Florida legislature threatened to turn the Sunshine State's model "government in the sunshine" law into Swiss cheese. Newspapers mounted "Sunshine Sunday" -- a campaign reminding Floridians of the high level of openness they enjoyed, highlighting the benefits of government transparency and detailing potential consequences of the proposals. Only a few passed.

Sunshine Week: Optimism through the Clouds

by The Sunlight Foundation

After launching Sunshine Week with yesterday's successful Advisory Committee on Transparency event, it's a good time to reflect on positive transparency developments around the country (as opposed to yesterday's disheartening news).

Storm clouds are gathering over Sunshine Week

by Penny Lee, in The Hill

It is hard to disagree with the administration's philosophy of promoting open government and freedom of information. However, actions speak louder than words, and it is clear that there are a number of dark and stormy clouds hovering over Sunshine Week.

Mo. State Auditor Schweich recognizes Sunshine Week


JEFFERSON CITY – State Auditor Tom Schweich  today promoted increased transparency in government in recognition of March 13-19, 2011 as Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote freedom of information in local, state and federal government. The initiative was launched by the American Society of News Editors in 2005.

State auditor will monitor responses to public record requests

By Marc Kovac, news@vindy.com

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said he will begin monitoring state and local agencies’ responses to public records’ requests as part of his office’s annual check of financial books.

Washington State Woman Wins Sunshine Week Contest

Editor & Publisher

The announcement of the Local Heroes kicks off Sunshine Week, which began yesterday. Howell will accept her award at the ASNE Convention, April 6-9, at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina. Howell, a former Stevenson school board member, got involved ...

Sunshine Week: Do Open Government Laws Still Matter in the Era of WikiLeaks?

Electronic Frontier Foundation

March 14-18, 2011 is “Sunshine Week”—a week to focus on the importance of open government and how we can ensure accountability for our leaders at the federal, state and local levels.

Editorial: How to fix a hole in Michigan's Freedom of Information Act

MLive.com, By The Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board

Following is one of a series of Press editorials during Sunshine Week, established by the American Society of News Editors to celebrate and safeguard open and transparent government. A Michigan Court of Appeals ...

Susy Schultz: It's a week to think about doing government business in the sunshine

Kankakee Daily Journal

Sunshine Week is to remind people what it should look like when government is open, transparent and respects the freedom of information that really equates to the public's right to know what the government it funds is doing with that money. ...

Records become public for sunshine week

A & T Register

These records not only include official reports and minutes of meetings, but also items like hand-written notes, phone messages, e-mails, databases, spreadsheets – nearly anything created or received by a government agency while conducting the public's ...

Editorial: Sunshine Week Governor less than open with last-minute release

Naples Daily News

Amid this Sunshine Week, which observes the importance of Florida's open records and open meetings laws, the leadership style of Gov. Rick Scott invites attention. Only a short time before a meeting with the Cabinet the other day, Scott passed out ...

Sunshine Week: Optimism through the Clouds - Sunlight Foundation

By Ellen Miller

After launching Sunshine Week with yesterday's successful Advisory Committee on Transparency event, it's a good time to reflect on positive transparency developments around the country (as opposed to yesterday's disheartening news).

Sunshine Week; Spelman STEM; LBGTQ Wedding Service : The Michael Eric Dyson Show


This week in March marks Sunshine Week, an initiative that emphasizes the need for government openness and transparency. Andy Alexander, spokesperson for the American Society of News Editors, which sponsors Sunshine Week, discusses the ...

Sunshine Week Arrives at GSA

from the U.S. General Services Administration

Learn about all of GSA's Open Government initiatives. GSA invites the public to play an active role in our government. ...

March 15

Glass half full

from the National Security Archive

Washington, D.C., March 14, 2011 - The Obama administration is only about halfway toward its promise of improving Freedom of Information responsiveness among federal agencies, according to the new Knight Open Government Survey by the National Security Archive, released Monday for Sunshine Week at http://www.nsarchive.org/.

SPJ 'honoring' Utah governor for closing records

from Cache Valley Daily

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The national Society of Professional Journalists plans to present Gov. Gary Herbert with a first-ever Black Hole award Wednesday to highlight the law, which increases fees for records request and makes text messages private.

U.S. alone among Western democracies in protecting hate speech

Commentary by Peter Scheer, Executive Director, FIRST AMENDMENT COALITION

An inebriated John Galliano, sitting in a Paris bar, unleashes an anti-Semitic rant (“I love Hitler”) that is captured on a cellphone camera and posted on the internet. Within days the Dior designer is not only fired from his job, but is given a trial date to face criminal charges for his offensive remarks.

Shining A Light On Open Government


Spread a little sunshine and celebrate freedom of information in our democracy during Sunshine Week, March 13-19. Sunshine Week, March 13-19, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of ...

Sunshine mixed with clouds, rain

Laconia Citizen

@Editorial body:Although the forecast for later this week tells us to expect rain, we still celebrate these few days as Sunshine Week, a time for us to remember our very special form of government, which calls upon elected officials to do the public's ...

Some Feds keep the shades drawn on Sunshine Week

OhMyGov! (blog)

That's right kids, we're talkin' Sunshine Week! For those not in the know (ie anyone who doesn't consider Jay Carney an A-List celebrity), Sunshine Week is an annual event founded by the American Society of News Editors and funded largely by the John ...

FdL, NFdL Schools provide open records for Sunshine Week

Fond du Lac Reporter

Sunshine Week, which started Sunday, is an annual initiative to promote freedom of information. Participants include news gathering organizations, civic groups, libraries, nonprofit groups, schools and others. Five Gannett Wisconsin newspapers, ...

Sunshine Week Feature: Politicians embrace social media & technology


By Robert Rizzuto, The Republican Among the millions of people tweeting, blogging or posting their thoughts to Facebook each day are an increasing numbers of politicians. While office holders use these platforms to promote their efforts or to draw ...


Open government doesn't just happen

Visalia Times-Delta

Here during Sunshine Week, it is another indication that the objective of completely open government is an ideal that is rarely realized. CalAware sampled 197 school districts in California at random to assess their compliance with public records ...

GRAY MATTER: Let's bring the sunshine back to Spring Grove government

Spring Grove Herald

By Heather M. Gray This week is what is known as "Sunshine Week," which is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors. ...

Here are ways to learn about your lawmakers

Fond du Lac Reporter

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and citizens interested in the public's ...

Openness laws play critical role in bringing investigations of crime and government to light in Oklahoma


March 13-19 is Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote open government. BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Leave a comment Political candidates with criminal backgrounds and financial problems; accusations of incompetence, laziness and fraud at the ...


Obama wants it both ways on Sunshine Week | Examiner Editorial ...

By Examiner Editorial

James Madison's birthday will be celebrated Wednesday at the Newseum with the induction of a new class of members into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame, to be hosted by the First Amendment Center.

Lawmakers attack public access during Sunshine Week | theCLog

By Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the ...

Happy Sunshine Week | Capital Blog

By mkovac

Happy Sunshine Week. Posted on March 15, 2011 by mkovac. Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann talks about the state's open meetings and public records laws in this state-produced clip that was distributed with the 2008 Ohio Sunshine ...

Welcome to Sunshine Week « VIVIAN J. PAIGE | All Politics is Local

By Mark Brooks

This is the 7th Annual Sunshine Week and is being celebrated by lovers of open government all over the country. Started by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and supported through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight ...

Track headlines about Sunshine Week and government transparency ...

By Robertson Adams

Each year, the media and civic groups celebrate Sunshine Week - a national initiative to promote open government and freedom of information. So far, the effort has spurred articles calling for transparency in Michigan's campaign finance ...


Sunshine Week | Richmond Times-Dispatch

"There's no law that says how you keep a record. That's why you have a lack of uniformity," - Maria J.K. Everett of the Virginia Freedom of Information ...

Sunshine Week is reminder to protect Right-to-Know law

Pennsylvanians have reason to celebrate during Sunshine Week; we're entering the third year of the new Right-To-Know Law, which finally allowed us to look ...

Let's follow Florida and shine light on public's right to know access


It isn't often that Montanans can say, "Thank you, Florida." This time of year, however, the Big Sky owes the Sunshine State a tip of the cap.

Support public’s right to know: On week celebrating freedom of information, back legislation preventing pre-emptive lawsuits

Missoulian editorial

At about this same time each year, we long for sunshine to welcome the days of spring. Meanwhile, newspapers across the country join forces in calling for sunshine - for a transparent, open government - to highlight the importance of free-flowing public information every day of the year.

Agencies struggling to meet Obama's order on FOIA

Associated Press

Dozens of federal agencies are struggling to meet President Barack Obama's 2-year-old order that requires the government to respond more quickly and thoroughly to request for records under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, a study finds.

See the Ohio Newspaper Association Bulletin for more headlines this week.

See the Sunshine Week Round up from the Sunlight Foundation

Knight Survey: Nearly Half of Federal Agencies Lag in Responding to FOIA Information Requests

from WisOpinion.com — Opee Awards toast open government, by Bill Leuders, president, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council   03.10.2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunshine Week at Work in the States

from NFOIC:

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

Sunshine Week as a national effort is spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors. The key funder has been the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with significant support from ASNE Foundation.

From here, you'll find a list of Sunshine Week events and observances that are being held across the country.

An added bonus: What you see here will also appear in Sunshine Week Coast to Coast, a special feature on the iPhone app, iOpenGov, brought to you by our friends and NFOIC member coalition, First Amendment Coalition.

The free app enhances the event listing with app tools that make it easy to get more information, visit Web sites, add events to your calendars, share the listing via email and Twitter and Facebook, and access maps and driving directions to the venues.

Get the app--and the latest news--here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunshine Week: The forecast is mostly cloudy

from The Huffington Post:
COLUMBIA, Mo. (from Ken Bunting, executive director at NFOIC) -- Heading into "Sunshine Week," many open government advocates across the country feel they have much more to bemoan than they have to celebrate.

Even if no court or attorney general ever chastises Wisconsin's Republican legislators for violating open meetings law notice requirements, the convoluted web of parliamentary rationalizations surrounding their vote last night is still beyond ordinary comprehension.

Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law a measure that now means that fewer than half of all U.S. state legislatures hold themselves to the same levels of transparency they prescribe for others.

Worse yet, open government laws in state after state, whether or not their reach goes to lawmakers themselves, are being damaged and weakened, with increasing frequency, by new exclusions, loopholes and crazy exemptions that promote more secrecy and a lot less transparency.

President Obama's openness pledge has garnered a lot of attention, with advocates questioning whether it was a false promise and whether his professed belief in transparency will ever make its way down through the vast federal bureaucracy.

But at the state and local levels, there has been little notice of an ongoing frontal assault on open, accessible government. When viewed comprehensibly and nationally, what has been happening in state legislatures all across the land has been downright scary.
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Reporters Committee lauds another win for openness in Supreme Court

from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:
Washington, D.C. — The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press lauded today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in another decision favorable to open government, this time ruling that the Navy’s use of a Freedom of Information Act exemption for records regarding internal agency personnel rules and practices was improperly invoked to deny the release of maps and charts.

“For the second time in a week, the Supreme Court has reinforced the public's right to get valuable information held by the government through the Freedom of Information Act,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “The government's interpretation of the ‘High 2’ exemption was tortured, at best, and once again the Court relied on a common sense approach to government transparency.”

Last week, the court ruled that AT&T could not use a FOIA exemption related to “personal privacy” to prevent the Federal Communications Commissions from releasing records about the corporation.

The Reporters Committee and 19 news organizations filed an amicus brief last September in Milner v. Department of the Navy cautioning against the “erroneous” expansion of FOIA Exemption 2 with so-called “High 2” information that includes more than basic personnel rules and records.

“Exemption 2 by its plain language exempts only those materials ‘related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.’ However … it has been expanded by agency interpretation and adopted by lower courts to over time cover more than just trivial matters of internal procedure to also include almost any record whose disclosure could enable some unidentified party to commit a hypothetical crime at some undefined future time,” the media brief noted.
Read the rest here.

A dark day for Utah FOI

from SPJ Blog Network:
On Wednesday, the Utah House Public Utilities and Technology Committee gave its OK to a bill that essentially dismantles the 20-year-old Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). As The Salt Lake Tribune reports, the bill, House Bill 477, would strip the legislative intent statement from GRAMA, which states that privacy concerns would be balanced with the public’s right to know; requiring those who appeal a records denial to make the case for disclosure by a “preponderance of the evidence” rather than submitting to a balancing test of the public’s right to know verus privacy concerns; makes text messages, instant-message chats, video chats and voice mails private records; fee waivers would be based on whether it was in the best interest of “taxpayer resources” to do so, rather than whether the person is seeking the records for a public benefit; and would allow for the inclusion of overhead, salary and other costs associated with filling a request; and make much of the Legislature’s paperwork exempt from disclosure.

And those are just a few of the things it does.

Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, ironically identified himself as an advocate of transparency. He claims GRAMA has gone too far and, to bolster his case, he trots out the canard of a constituent e-mailing a legislator to discuss a bill and mentioning as an aside that his child is sick, and the child’s illness being splashed across the front pages of newspapers.
Read the rest here.

Isthmus, Wisconsin Associated Press sue Gov. Scott Walker over access to emails

from Isthmus/The Daily Page:
Isthmus newspaper and the Wisconsin Associated Press today filed a lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker over his office's failure to respond to open records requests regarding emails received by his office.

"The governor said he had gotten more than 8,000 emails as of Feb. 17, with 'the majority' urging him to 'stay firm' on his budget repair bill," says Isthmus News Editor Bill Lueders. "We're just trying to see these largely supportive responses."

The lawsuit, filed March 4 in Dane County court, names as defendants Gov. Walker and the office of the governor.

Isthmus made its request by hand-delivered letter on Feb. 18, a day after Walker referred to these 8,000 emails and about an hour before he held another press conference saying the number had since swelled to 19,000, again mostly positive. The paper followed this with two communications with Walker spokesperson Cullen Werwie (the second of which, on Feb. 24, was also sent to Brian Hagedorn, the governor's legal counsel). Both asked for an update on the status of the original request.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Does new Supreme Court decision in FOIA case stop Citizens United in its tracks?

from CREW:
The Supreme Court issued a decision in Fed. Communications Comm’n v. AT&T, holding the protection the Freedom of Information Act provides for “personal privacy” does not include corporations. AT&T was trying to prevent the disclosure of documents it had submitted to the FCC as part of an investigation, arguing their release would invade the corporation’s personal privacy. According to AT&T, because the word “person” in the FOIA includes corporations, the reference to “personal privacy” must also include corporations.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case, many feared the Court would use it as an opportunity to extend its ruling in Citizens United, where it recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, to broader contexts such as the FOIA. A number of groups, including CREW, filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to use common sense and congressional intent to limit the FOIA’s personal privacy protection to individuals.
Read the rest here.

A new 'toolkit' for opening up civic life

from techPresident:
Citizens who believe their government is open and transparent are more likely to be satisfied with civic life, according to research released by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and the Monitor Institute.

Accompanying that research is a set of materials drafted by the Monitor Institute, a for-profit think tank and consultancy hybrid, intended to help community leaders identify how better flow of information in their communities might improve civic life, and then plan out how to create that change.

Pew and the Monitor Institute, conducting surveys and workshops in research backed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found that the belief that local government is transparent correlates with a belief that citizens can make a difference in their cities. Respondents in Philadelphia, P.A., Macon, Ga., and San Jose, Ca., who said that local government does very or pretty well at sharing information were far more likely to report feeling that they could make an impact in their community than those who did not, the survey found.
Read more here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Court: No personal privacy for business in FOIA

from Washington Post:
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that corporations have no right of personal privacy to prevent the disclosure of documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 8-0 opinion Tuesday that reversed an appeals court ruling in favor of AT&T. The outcome was notable for its unanimity, especially in view of recent criticism from liberal interest groups that the court tilts too far in favor of business.

"The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations," Roberts wrote. "We trust that AT&T will not take it personally."
Read the rest here.

Sensible strategies for open government and online hubs

from KnightComm:
The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released two policy papers that call on community and elected leaders to adopt sensible strategies to expand government transparency, make public records and civic data more open and accessible to the public, and create local online hubs that provide maps for a community’s information resources.

Government Transparency: Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government, by Jon Gant and Nicol Turner-Lee, urges state and local governments to adopt six strategies that are particularly important for accelerating the trend toward open government at the state and local levels. The strategies focus on enhancing government expertise and transparency, educating citizens regarding the availability and utility of government information and e-government tools, expanding efforts to support greater adoption of broadband Internet access services and devices, and forging public-private-citizen partnerships in order to enhance open government solutions. Adopting these strategies will enable state and local governments to tap into the expertise and innovative spirit of the public to create new “public goods” apps and community information resources and ultimately enhance government accountability.

Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action, by Adam Thierer, explores three scenarios under which community leaders and other stakeholders can work together to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities. Government information, requiring real transparency of public information, should form the foundation for building local online hubs according to the three models proposed by Thierer.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spy Games: Inside the convoluted plot to bring down WikiLeaks

from Wired:
In November, when a major U.S. bank wanted a strategy for taking down WikiLeaks, [CEO of HBGary Federal Aaron] Barr immediately drafted a presentation in which he suggested “cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project . . .”

Faking documents seemed like a good idea, too, documents which could later be “called out” so as to make WikiLeaks look unreliable.

And Barr wanted to go further, pushing on people like civil liberties Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald — apparently hoping to threaten their livelihoods. “These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals,” he wrote. “Without the support of people like Glenn WikiLeaks would fold.”
Read the rest here.

Government contractors targeted Chamber of Commerce's critics

from the Los Angeles Times:
Reporting from Washington — Hoping to win a lucrative agreement with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, three data security contractors for federal defense and intelligence agencies developed a proposal to monitor and manipulate the chamber's left-leaning critics, according to recently released e-mail correspondence.

Employees of the firms compiled short dossiers on a few activists that included photographs, references to their families and charts of their relationships with other liberal and labor leaders.

The proposals were received by Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents the chamber.

[. . .]

The firm, which also represents Bank of America, solicited a separate proposal from the security firms to help the bank deal with a threat by WikiLeaks, the international hacker organization, to release some of the bank's internal data.
Read the rest here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Firm targeting WikiLeaks cuts ties with HBGary - apologizes to reporter

from The Tech Herald: --
Dr. Alex Karp, the Co-Founder and CEO of Palantir Technologies, one of three data intelligence firms who worked to develop a systematic plan of attack against WikiLeaks and their supporters, has severed all ties with HBGary Federal and issued an apology to reporter Glenn Greenwald.


. . . The Tech Herald learned that Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies, worked together with law firm Hunton and Williams to develop a proposal for Bank of America in order to deal with the “WikiLeaks Threat.”

Hunton and Williams were recommended to Bank of America’s general counsel by the Department of Justice, according to the email chain viewed by The Tech Herald. The law firm was using the meeting to pitch Bank of America on retaining them for an internal investigation surrounding WikiLeaks.


Moreover, reporter Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon.com, was singled out in the proposal as a person offering a level of support to WikiLeaks that needed to be disrupted. This disruption would include making Greenwald, and others in similar situations, choose between professional preservation and cause.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Personal privacy and the right to know

from a New York Tmes editorial: --
For 45 years, the Freedom of Information of Act has invigorated American democracy by obliging the executive branch to make public a splendid range of documents. It serves the people’s right to know, while leaving out data whose disclosure could be harmful.

The law’s “exemption 7,” about facts gathered for law enforcement, omits records whose release could be “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Until now courts have unanimously agreed its purpose is to protect individuals. Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a case in which the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, decided “personal privacy” includes the privacy of corporations.

Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T addresses whether AT&T can prevent the F.C.C. from releasing documents about the company’s overbilling of the government. If the justices supported that interpretation, they would wreak havoc on the Freedom of Information Act. Fortunately, there’s little risk of that.
Read the rest here.

Democrats call on House panel to narrow FOIA request

from FederalTimes.com --
House Democrats are calling on the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to pare back his request to dozens of agencies to divulge details of Freedom of Information Act requests from the last five years.

The committee's request "will encumber every agency with a work-stopping diversion" and have a chilling effect on the public's willingness to make use of FOIA, Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont wrote in a letter Tuesday to the committee chairman, Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Last month, Issa asked dozens of agencies, ranging from the Justice Department to the Railroad Retirement Board, for their FOIA logs from the past five years, along with all communications with requesters and a rundown on how each request was handled.
Read the rest here.

FBI, DOJ and DEA stall release of records on bid to expand surveillance laws

from Electronic Frontier Foundation --
EFF filed a reply brief in its FOIA lawsuit seeking records from the FBI, DOJ and DEA that would justify the Administration’s need to expand federal surveillance laws like the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The proposed expansion would require communications providers like Skype, Facebook, Blackberry and Twitter to build wiretapping capabilities right into their systems, and although we know Congress intends to turn to this issue early this year, FBI, DEA and DOJ have argued they can’t give us all the documents we asked for until the summer of 2012. To force the government to turn over documents on a timeline that would actually allow them to influence the debate, we filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to order the agencies to produce documents within 10 days.

This lawsuit is based on two separate but related FOIA requests, one of which has now been pending with the FBI for almost two years. The earlier request seeks documents on the FBI’s “Going Dark Program,” a program intended to bolster the Bureau’s electronic communications intercept capabilities that could be strengthened by new legislation. The second request, now pending for four months, seeks materials related to a legislative expansion to CALEA, including evidence of any limitations of current surveillance technologies and records of communications between DOJ agencies and technology companies, trade organizations and Congress about potential legislation.
Read the rest here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Tech world stunned at Egypt's Internet shutdown

from SFGate.com:
The Egyptian government's unprecedented shutdown of Internet and mobile phone access Friday stunned the world's technology community, which questioned whether the country can quickly recover from cutting such a vital link for commerce and communication.

The government's surprising move came in the face of widespread civil unrest, but essentially wiped the country off the world's online maps, said Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Renesys, a New Hampshire firm that monitors how the Internet is operating.

"It is astonishing because Egypt has so much potentially to lose in terms of credibility with the Internet community and the economic world," Cowie said. "It will set Egypt back for years in terms of its hopes of becoming a regional Internet power."
Read the rest here.

ACLU files FOIA request regarding VA Department of Transportation policies

from ACLU press release:
Winchester, VA - The ACLU of Virginia has filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) seeking information about policies and practices affecting the destruction of the possessions of homeless persons who use land under the agency's control.

The ACLU's request comes in the wake of a January 5 incident in which a company under contract with VDOT destroyed a homeless encampment along Interstate 81 at Exit 315 near Winchester. According to news reports at least four homeless men had been using the property for months when road maintenance crews demolished the encampment.

The homeless men were not present at the time, but apparently lost tents, sleeping bags, camping gear, clothes, canned food and medication. At least one man lost his wallet, including his Social Security Card and birth certificate. The men received no advance notice that their property would be destroyed.

According to court precedents homeless persons, even while located on right-of-ways or other state property, have constitutional rights regarding their possessions.

"Federal courts have consistently ruled that homeless persons have an expectation of privacy that includes the right to be notified before their property can be seized or destroyed," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. "They may be homeless, but they are still entitled to the same constitutional protections that apply to the rest of us."
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Republican congressman proposes tracking FOIA requests

from The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Representative Darrell Issa calls it a way to promote transparency: a request for the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, business executives, journalists and others who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years.

Mr. Issa, a California Republican and the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says he wants to make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests . . .

But his extraordinary request worries some civil libertarians. It “just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking,” said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. “It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good.”
Read more here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

DHS releases FOIA report, but questions remain

from Electronic Privacy Information Center:
The Department of Homeland Security has released the Freedom of Information Act Report for 2010. The report analyzes the processing of FOIA requests made throughout the year by each DHS component, detailing the disposition of each request, response times, and the number of backlogged requests.

DHS is under scrutiny for their policy of referring FOIA requests to political appointees before processing. The release of over 1,000 agency documents revealed a persistent agency practice of flagging FOIA requests from EPIC and other watchdog organizations for referral.
Read the rest here.

Knight FOI Fund case compels public records release in upstate NY

from NFOIC.org:
COLUMBIA, Mo. (January 27, 2011)—A New York judge, ruling in a case supported by a Knight FOI Fund grant, has ordered disclosure of records sought by a Web publisher and a community activist regarding a volunteer fire company.

But in the same 13-page ruling, Warren County (NY) Supreme Court Judge David B. Krogmann held that many of the meetings of the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company are of a "social" or "private nature," and are not subject to the state's Open Meetings Law.

June Maxam, editor and publisher of The North Country Gazette, and Christine Hayes, a deputy zoning administrator and assistant assessor for the Town of Horicon, NY, who represented themselves in the lawsuit filed on September 15, indicated that they planned to appeal the ruling.

Noting that they had represented themselves and therefore had no attorney bills, Judge Krogmann also declined to award the two women reimbursement for their legal fees and expenses. As offset for the fee reimbursements Maxam and Hayes had sought, Krogmann ordered that copying charges for the records being sought be waived. Maxam disputes the judge’s finding that she and Hayes incurred no legal bills.

Open government advocates expressed dismay over portions of the ruling, although Maxam and Hayes will be getting the records that were at the heart of the legal case after Krogmann completes an in camera judicial review to allow redaction of exempt, personal or private information..

"If they choose to appeal as they say they will, I hope some member of the New York bar who believes in open government will step forward and aid these petitioners in their important legal battle," said Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).

"I know that finding volunteer legal representation is especially difficult when a judge has already ruled against granting fees and expenses. But there is much more at stake here than just a community squabble," Bunting added.

"It seems that the court did not thoroughly consider the breadth of the decision rendered by the state's highest court more than 30 years ago," said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, a division of the Secretary of State's office that issues advisory opinions on open government matters.

Referring to a 1980 state Court of Appeals ruling in a case called Westchester Rockland Newspapers Inc. v. Kimball, Freeman added: "Based on that [Westchester] decision, it has been our view that meetings of volunteer fire companies are subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Law."
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Corporate secrecy at issue in Supreme Court case

from OMB Watch:
In August 2004, SBC Communications admitted improperly charging for services under an FCC program to subsidize phone and Internet access for schools and libraries. (In 2005, SBC merged with AT&T.) SBC returned the money and paid an additional $500,000 to the government under the terms of a consent decree adopted in December 2004, in exchange for the FCC closing its investigation into the matter.

In April 2005, Comptel, a trade association whose members include AT&T competitors such as Sprint and Verizon, submitted a FOIA request for the FCC's investigation file. SBC opposed the request on the grounds that the records were exempt from release under FOIA's "personal privacy" provision. In August 2005, the FCC decided to release the records because "generally, businesses do not possess 'personal privacy' interests." SBC appealed the agency’s decision.


In November and December 2010, the government and AT&T filed their briefs in the case, along with Comptel and several amici curiae. "The court of appeals' decision is itself a singular outlier in an otherwise uniform body of more than 35 years of decisional law and commentary," the government argued in its brief. "A corporation itself can no more be embarrassed, harassed, or stigmatized than a stone."
Read the rest here.

SEC Inspector General reports of investigation

from Project on Government Oversight:
In recent years, investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of Inspector General (OIG) have exposed a wide range of serious misconduct, including the agency's failure to crack down on the Madoff and Stanford Ponzi schemes, retaliation against whistleblowers, conflicts of interest, revolving door abuses, the failure to take action against Bear Stearns, insider trading by SEC employees, and much more. Unfortunately, most of these reports are nowhere to be found on the SEC or OIG's website.

POGO has obtained many of the OIG's recent investigative reports through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and from other sources. We've made the reports searchable and are compiling them here as a resource to the public. Reports that have not been posted on the SEC or OIG's website are marked in red.
Read the rest here.

Horicon (NY) officials close door on open-government advocate's Town Hall visit

from PostStar.com:
The Horicon Town Board held what appeared to be an illegal meeting Wednesday to ban an event from Town Hall that was to feature the state's expert on the Freedom of Information and open meetings laws.

The "emergency" meeting was held by the board to rescind permission for local residents to host Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, for an open government discussion at Town Hall on Feb. 9.

The event has instead been moved to the Horicon fire station and will be held on the same date.

The controversy does not focus on Freeman, but rather on June Maxam, a Chester resident who helped organize the event. Maxam is publisher of the North Country Gazette, a website that is frequently critical of local government.


Freeman seemed taken aback Thursday at the developments, saying, "So what, who cares?" when told that Maxam's involvement was what prompted the Town Board to taken action.
Read the rest here.

NBC: U.S. can't link accused Army private to Assange

from msnbc.com:
U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.


Assange told msnbc TV last month that WikiLeaks was unsure Army PFC Bradley Manning is the source for the classified documents appearing on his site.
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MnCOGI accepting nominations for 2011 John R. Finnegan FOI Award

from Minnesota Coalition on Government Information:
The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is soliciting nominations for a person, group of people or organization that demonstrates a commitment to the power of information.

Past recipients include Colleen Coghlan, a college librarian outspoken on open access, the Urban Coalition, a Minneapolis organization that uses information to build a community, and Reed Anfinson, the publisher of a weekly Minnesota newspaper who keeps a constant vigil for open access in his hometown and across the nation. Information about past recipients can be found on the Finnegan FIO Award page.

MnCOGi presents the John R. Finnegan FOI Award each year. It´s named in honor of the former editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press whose lifelong commitment to open government and the public´s right to know exemplifies MnCOGI´s mission.
Read the rest here.

"Right to know" fracking bill debated in Montana

from Montana Conservation Voters:
HELENA, Mont. - A debate on company secrets versus the public's right to know is set for today in the Montana Legislature. A hearing is being held on a proposal that would require oil and gas companies to provide a list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), in the interest of protecting residents and first-responders at accidents near fracking projects.

Sharon Sweeney Fee, a Livingston nurse, is testifying.

"We want something available, not unlike what we have available on train cars now, so when anybody needs to know - because there has been accident - they can look and see what these people have been exposed to."
Read the rest here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Oregon, Washington consider public records overhaul

from Oregon Public Broadcasting:
The Attorneys General of Oregon and Washington are asking state lawmakers to make public documents more accessible.

A pair of bills in Salem and a hearing Thursday in Olympia come in response to critics who say obtaining government records is too expensive and takes too long.

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger wants to create strict deadlines for public agencies to respond to records requests.

His proposal would also cap the amount that agencies can charge, and it would reduce the types of information that are exempt from public disclosure requirements.
Read the rest here.

Open-government initiative marks two-year milestone

from nextgov:
Two years ago Friday, on his first day in office, President Obama issued a memo aimed at making government operations more transparent. While open government advocates have largely panned the effort over what they call toothless policies, a regulatory compliance initiative announced Tuesday is giving some of those critics new hope the administration's transparency objectives eventually might be realized.


To gather additional perspective on the future of Obama's open government effort, Nextgov interviewed Don Tapscott, co-author of the new book Macrowikinomics (Portfolio, 2010), a sequel to the 2006 best-seller Wikinomics. Macrowikinomics examines the way networked communities are transforming the way governments operate.
Read the rest here.

High court hears argument in FOI corporate privacy case

from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:
It was a lesson in vocabulary during oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court held Wednesday morning, as the high court wrestled over the meaning of the word "personal." The case, FCC v. AT&T, concerned a federal Freedom of Information Act request for documents regarding a Federal Communications Commission investigation into AT&T's participation in a federal telecommunications build-out program. AT&T self-reported that it may have overcharged the government for its services.

The question before the Supreme Court on Wednesday was whether Exemption 7(c) of the FOIA recognizes and protects the "personal privacy" of corporate entities in the same manner as it does for individuals. Exemption 7(c) states "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information . . . could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Read the rest here.

See more analysis here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

US officials privately say WikiLeaks damage limited

from Reuters:
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration's public statements to the contrary.

A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.

"I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster," the official said.

But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official....

"We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging," said the official....
Read the rest here.

Court rules government can continue to suppress detainee statements describing torture and abuse

from the ACLU:
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled that the government can continue suppressing transcripts in which former CIA prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture they suffered in CIA custody. The ruling came in an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to obtain uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) used to determine if Guantánamo detainees qualify as "enemy combatants."

“The American people have a right to know what the government has done in their name, and these transcripts, which include the direct testimony of the victims themselves, are essential to a full understanding of the Bush administration’s torture program,” said Ben Wizner, Litigation Director of the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the appeal for the ACLU. “The court’s decision undermines the Freedom of Information Act and condones a cover-up. These transcripts are being suppressed not to protect national security, but to shield former government officials from accountability.”

The ACLU lawsuit sought transcripts of statements made by Guantánamo prisoners concerning the abuse they allegedly suffered while in U.S. custody. While the CIA released heavily-redacted versions of the documents in June 2009, it continues to suppress major portions of the documents, including detainees' allegations of torture.
Read the rest here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

NFOIC executive director delivers keynote address at Washington State Open Government Conference

from the Seattle PostGlobe:
Passionate about the need for citizens and reporters to freely get information from government agencies, former P-I associate publisher Ken Bunting is back to town to give a keynote speech at the Washington State Open Government Conference on Saturday. There, you can learn your rights to open government and you can get practical tips to exercise your rights at all levels -- federal, state and local governments.

So we caught up with Bunting, now executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, to get his thoughts on just how lousy things have become -- or not.

It's certainly a tough time to get government information in some quarters: The White House has been under the gun on science integrity and openness, and some reporters complain time and time and time again of incidences of being denied information.
Read the rest here.

New York Congressman asks Treasury to blacklist Wikileaks' Assange

from Datamation:
A prominent House lawmaker is ratcheting up pressure on the Obama administration to take action against Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

In a letter delivered this week, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to add Assange to the department's Specially Designated National and Blocked Persons List, or SDN List, a move that would prohibit U.S. businesses and individuals from doing business with the whistleblower site or anyone associated with it.

The SDN List is a registry maintained by Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control that seeks to impose sanctions against individuals and companies associated with targeted foreign countries, or independent entities that have been identified as criminal operations, such as terrorists or drug traffickers.

King and other lawmakers have warned that Wikileaks' publication of a cache of secret State Department documents, many relating to confidential conversations between diplomats and local informants, puts the lives of U.S. operatives and their sources in danger.
Read the rest here.

Read about Geithner's response here.

National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame

from the First Amendment Center:
The right to know about the actions of government is now an important part of America’s democratic heritage.

The legal basis of this right was established on July 4, 1966, when President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act. In 1974, FOIA was strengthened with the passage of key amendments. A new measure, which would apply FOIA principles to electronic records, has been passed by House and Senate committees in the 104th Congress.

Journalists have used the act for more than three decades to generate thousands of news stories, including some of the most important exposés of our time. Using FOIA, journalists have held government accountable, exposed crime, and helped shape American public policy in major ways.

Many people inside the government, legislators as well as enlightened federal administrators, contributed to FOIA’s creation and implementation. Others, including presidents and some in Congress, have unsuccessfully sought to weaken FOIA. In part, it has been the vigilance of news organizations and journalists, supported by enlightened federal leaders, that has preserved the act.
Read the rest here.

Sunlight Weekly Round-Up: Gov 2.0 for better governing

from The Sunlight Foundation:
... Gov 2.0 guru Tim O'Reilly encourages us to look at it as “government as a platform." In fact, in his "What does Government 2.0 mean to you?" he gives citizens the opportunity to literally define it in their terms and be comfortable with how they see it working for them. This is why the latest blogosphere excitement about upcoming Gov 2.0 activities in various states make me want to share it with you.

If the enthusiasm with which this year's conferences have been organized is anything to go by, then we can conclude by saying that the concept has succeeded in grabbing the attention it deserves, reaffirming O'Reilly's words that government can become a platform of, for and by the people.
Read the rest here.

Register now for National FOI Day conference

from the First Amendment Center:
WASHINGTON — The 13th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference will be held Wednesday, March 16, at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

Hosted each year by the First Amendment Center, the conference brings together open records advocates, government officials, judges, lawyers, librarians, journalists, educators and others to discuss timely issues related to transparency in government and public access to official records.

The program is conducted in partnership with the American Library Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, and the National Security Archive at George Washington University; and in cooperation with the annual Sunshine Week initiative sponsored by the American Society of News Editors.
Read the rest here.

Judge says government need not disclose air traveler security images

from SecurityInfoWatch.com:
A federal judge in Washington has ruled the Department of Homeland Security can keep from public view 2,000 "whole-body" images of air travelers screened at checkpoints.

The decision is a setback for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which had sued the government for release of material to determine how the technology would impact privacy and civil liberty concerns.

But Judge Ricardo Urbina, in a 15-page opinion issued Wednesday, said the Homeland Security Department has no obligation under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the images or related training materials.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Richmond police drop demand for documents

from The Washington Post:
The Richmond Police Department is dropping its demand for the return of dozens of internal documents it provided to a group called Richmond Copwatch, a week after filing suit in Richmond Circuit Court seeking an emergency protective order.

The 600 pages of documents were supplied last month, at a cost of $89.25, after a Freedom of Information Act request by an anarchist who uses the name "Mo Karn," short for "Mo Karnage."

Richmond police turned over materials such as their Emergency Operations Plan, the Homeland Security Criminal Intelligence Unit Operating Manual and the Mobile Command Center Operating Manual.

Karn then put them online.
Read the rest here.

NY union to appeal release of teacher rankings

from All Headline News:
Teachers in New York plan to appeal a court decision allowing the state education department to release their names and rankings, citing privacy and flawed data.

The United Federation of Teachers will seek a review of the ruling of State Supreme Court Judge Cynthia Kern on the release of performance reports of 12,000 teachers.

Kern issued her decision on Monday, saying, "It was not arbitrary and capricious for the DOE to find that the privacy interest at issue is outweighed by the public's interest in disclosure."
Read the rest here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Michigan court ruling on privacy may hurt public's right to know

opinion from the Detroit Free Press:
In one of the last acts of its short-lived Democratic majority, the Michigan Supreme Court did some potential damage to the public's right to know, in a ruling about the privacy of what public employees do on public time with publicly provided communications systems.

The court ought to reconsider this decision before somebody tries to hide behind it to thwart the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, a law that's intended to make sure the public can know how public business is being conducted and whether public office is being abused.

The Supreme Court voted 4-3 on Dec. 29 -- with Democrats, including one lame duck, forming the majority -- not to review a Court of Appeals decision denying public access to e-mails that Howell Public Schools employees sent on the district's computer system.
Read the rest here.

Richmond police want anarchists to turn over manuals

from Style Weekly:
The Richmond Police Department and the City of Richmond have filed suit against a woman who represents a local anarchist collective called Wingnut, asking her to return police policy manuals that the department released to her group.

In the complaint, the Richmond Police Department puts the blame on program manager Angela Harrison, saying she “exceeded the authority granted to her” in responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from the anarchist group.

The department says in the suit that it shouldn’t have disclosed the police manuals, which cover emergency policies on crowd management, operation of the mobile command center and a host of other police tactics and policies -- including policies on mounted units and Segway-riding officers.
Read the rest here.