Posts Tagged ‘disclosure’


FOI Fail of the Week: Pentagon works to extend information safeguards, not rein them in

Although President Obama issued an executive order in November 2010 calling for agencies to narrow their use of labels like “Controlled Unclassified Information” and “for official use only,” the Defense Department is trying to impose even more restrictions.

The Pentagon proposed a rule in June that would permit new safeguard requirements for designations such as “Sensitive But Unclassified” that protect unclassified information from disclosure, according to Secrecy News.

The rule also requires protection of any unclassified information that hasn’t been specifically authorized for public disclosure.

This action, if implemented, would permit the further use of safeguarding labels. As a result, much unclassified information would continue to be kept from the public despite the Obama administration’s stated goal of putting more data into citizens’ hands.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: British Columbia gets proactive about open gov, Mass. budget planned in secret

British Columbia plans for more transparency

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is poised to make good on her promise to make government more transparent, notably with a directive supporting the active disclosure of data.

Clark has already promoted online communications and town-hall meetings as important avenues for open government, and her proposed policy of proactive disclosure would greatly increase citizens’ access to government information.

British Columbia’s government would regularly make data public that is currently only accessible through formal freedom of information act requests, according to a Vancouver Sun editorial.

Clark plans to move toward an open data model that will provide citizens with information on a variety of topics, ranging from the environment to health to spending, in a searchable and easily accessible format.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has warned the government that privacy rights must be considered when planning such broad information disclosures.

Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government,  and the cabinet committee on open government are developing a specific game plan for implementing this open data policy, although – ironically – it is exempt from access-to-information legislation (as are all cabinet committees).

Mass. budget negotiated behind closed doors

The Massachusetts legislature negotiated a $30.6 billion budget deal in almost total secrecy.

The budget, approved in July, was planned by six legislators who met for 24 days in discussions kept out of the public’s notice. The locations and times for the meet-ups, as well as their agendas and debates, were kept quiet, and no minutes were taken for any of the meetings, according to the Boston Globe.

This kind of information blackout isn’t uncommon in Massachusetts, which has almost no requirements for lawmakers to publicly discuss government business. Fewer than 20 states have similar secrecy practices, and Massachusetts is one of about 10 states in which citizens don’t even have the right to see legislators’ records.

Although public testimony was collected and floor debates were held concerning the budget, the key choices made at the opening and closing of deliberations were decided in secret.

When the legislature votes to approve measures, it is often more of a formality because key leaders have already made the real agreements behind closed doors.

If you want to know more about Massachusetts’ not-so-open open government laws and how they compare to those of other states, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has an open government guide that’s awfully helpful.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Disciplined cops’ names withheld in Seattle, N.H. city’s lawsuits go public

Secret in Seattle

Despite dissension from the city government, the Seattle Police Department is keeping the names of officers who’ve faced disciplinary action secret.

A labor arbitrator demanded the names be withheld at the behest of the city’s police officers union.

The City of Seattle said it may pursue a court appeal of the decision. The case may depend on the Police Department’s legal responsibilities under Washington disclosure laws.

The department is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for its treatment of minorities and use of force.

It has also been criticized for being too secretive and has been disclosing more information on internal investigations in an attempt to shore up public trust.

Keeping the names of officers disciplined for misconduct, however, could throw a wrench in efforts to foster public faith in the Police Department.

N.H. town makes city lawsuits public

City officials in Danville, N.H., have decided to make town lawsuits easily accessible to the public.

Lawsuits both won and lost by the city are to be posted on the city website.

The city board voted unanimously to make the resolved lawsuits public.

In Danville this week, the open government tally so far is Transparency: 1, Secrecy: 0.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Footage of killings private in Fla., federal FOIA responses mixed

Fla. governor keeps killing footage from public view

Just before the weekend began, Fla. Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that would keep photos and video and audio recordings showing a person getting killed from media outlets and the general public.

The bill, signed on June 2, exempts this information from the mandatory disclosure rules for the state’s open records act. Only particular members of the immediate family and local, state and federal government agencies would be allowed access.

Citizens would still be able to request the recordings, but they would have to prove there is a “good cause” for disclosing the records, in accordance with the exemption guidelines.

The bill could make it more difficult to learn the actual circumstances of a person’s death due to a lack of public access to the photographs and recordings, according to Naples Daily News Editor Phil Lewis.

The Hill shows mixed FOIA request responses at federal level

The Hill submitted FOIA requests more than six months ago asking for FOIA logs for over 70 federal agencies.

Requested information included the names of individuals who requested records, the subject of their requests and any affiliations they had. Many departments honored the request, but there wasn’t a consistent standard upheld by executive branch agencies.

Some logs were handwritten, and most agencies took months to release the information. A few departments, though, provided the information within days of the initial request.

The best-responding federal agencies included the Department of Transportation, the Defense Contract Management Agency and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The worst departments were the Department of Health and Human Services, Farm Credit Administration and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: Gov limousine increase and Federal Reserve disclosure hearing

Limousines, limousines and more limousines

During an economic crisis, wasteful spending can seem like Public Enemy No. 1.

Public records can provide a great way to check on how local, state and federal governments are spending their funds.

The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News did just that. Sifting through records revealed that one of the federal government’s extravagances as of late has been the purchase of extra fancy cars. Limousines, to be exact.

U.S. General Services Administration records showed that, during the Obama administration, the number of limos increased from 238 in the federal fleet in fiscal year 2008 to 412 in 2010.

From 2008, the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency, to 2010, there was a 73 percent increase in the number of federal limousines. Obama began his presidency in 2009, serving in the Oval Office for eight months. It was also in 2009 that the largest increase in limos occurred.

Some of the ’09 additions could have been part of previous requests from the Bush administration.

According to GSA, however, these limousine numbers aren’t reliable because ‘limousine’ is not a well-defined term and could include vehicles such as sedans. Overall federal fleet numbers are recorded every year.

Hearing on Federal Reserve transparency today

The Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Ron Paul and part of the House Financial Services Committee, will hold a hearing on transparency within the Federal Reserve today at 2 p.m. in Washington, D.C.

The event will focus on the information on emergency lending facilities, open market regulations and other topics that the Fed disclosed in order to comply with the Dodd-Frank Act and FOIA.

Also up for discussion is how the Federal Reserve will make future disclosures as demanded by Dodd-Frank Act provisions.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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FOI DAILY DOSE: FOIA summit and executive order opposition outrage

While a summit today in Washington, D.C. trained government employees to handle fee-related FOIA issues, House Republicans opposed a potential executive order from President Obama that would increase political transparency among government contractors.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy held its FOIA Fee Summit today to train employees from various government agencies to handle issues that often occur when deciding what fees or fee waivers are appropriate for FOIA requests, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.

The summit wasn’t the OIP’s only FOI-related event today. It also held the first of two training sessions about new guidelines for FOIA’s Exemption 2, which allows records “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency” to be exempted from mandatory disclosure under the act.

This exemption figured prominently in a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Milner v. Department of the Navy. The court decided in March that the rule should be interpreted more narrowly.

The second session will be on June 9.

While the OIP educated employees on the finer points of FOIA today, Obama continued to face opposition over a proposed executive order that would force government contractors to disclose any political contributions, according to The Hill, a congressional newspaper.

In a letter to Obama sent Monday, 43 members of the Republican Study Committee, a group that includes more than 175 Republicans in the House of Representatives and aims to promote a conservative economic and social agenda, asked him not to sign the draft order. If he does, they wrote they would introduce legislation quickly in the House of Representatives to block it from being implemented.

While Republicans and some Democrats have voiced opposition to the order, more than 30 public interest groups have supported it.

Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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