Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’


Must read FOI stories – 6/6/14

Every week I’ll be doing a round up of the freedom of information stories around the Web. If you have an FOI story you want to share, send me an email or tweet me.

  • How can you get open records from private colleges? Find federal agencies they report to and request records: Internal Harvard report, obtained via FOIA request, shines light on ex-researcher’s misconduct.
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation dukes it out with the Justice Department in court hearings. EFF sued the Justice Department for access to records showing opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which found some of the NSA’s domestic telephone surveillance unconstitutional.
  • Michigan House of Representatives passes bill affirming the confidentiality of gun records and keeps them exempt from FOIA. The bill codifies a 1999 Michigan Supreme Court Decision that gun records disclosure was “a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.”
  • Investigative Reporters & Editors have an awesome FOI podcast, aptly named FOIA Frustrations​. You should listen to it.

David Schick is the summer 2014 Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern for SPJ,  reporting and researching public records and FOI issues. Contact him at dschick@spj.org or interact on Twitter: @davidcschick

Freedom of Information Win: FBI releases National Security Letter templates

In another freedom of information request success, the Justice Department has released templates the FBI uses to generate National Security Letters. The FBI uses these letters to gain personal information on people they are investigating for national security matters, from entities such as internet service providers and financial and credit companies, according to The Wall Street Journal.  The FBI can request letters in security investigations without needing permission from a judge or grand jury.

The released templates are in response to an FOI request by the ACLU.  Some positive revelations from the templates include instructions for recipients who want to challenge the gag order implicit in each request for information.  Additionally, the templates show some information the FBI can request, including phone number, address, financial history, email and ‘to’ and ‘from’ email addresses.  However, the sections detailing what information companies can provide to comply with the request are heavily redacted, leaving some ambiguity as to what companies are providing.

Check out some of the templates:

NSL Template for Extensive Email or Internet Records

NSL Template for Financial Records

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email –  wevans@hq.spj.org –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to wevans@HQ.SPJ.org. It may be featured in a future post.

UPDATE: House votes to hold Holder in contempt over ‘Fast and Furious’

Fast and Furious Contempt Vote

UPDATE: 4:44 p.m. ET: The House has voted to hold Eric Holder in contempt, 255-67.

The House Committee for Government Oversight and Reform will proceed today with the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. At this point, however, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he is not accusing theWhite House or Holder for knowing about the Fast and Furious operation. Rather, the Committee is looking for documents to reveal why the Department of Justice initially denied and later admitted to knowledge of the scandal.

“When did they know we were lied to and what did they do about it?”  Issa asked, according to CBS News.

The Fast and Furious operation refers to a 2009 gun-walking tactic resulting in more than 2000 guns to be walked across the Arizona/Mexico border in an attempt to trace the guns to suspected gun smugglers. The operation ultimately failed and resulted in unaccounted weapons and the death of border agent Brian Terry.

The National Rifle Association has given its support to the contempt proceedings and say today’s vote will influence which candidates they will back in the future. This move by the NRA may influence not only House Republicans but pro-gun House Democrats as well.

Whistleblower Involved in Gunwalking

Adding to the mess surrounding the contempt proceedings is the integrity of a key whistleblower, John Dodson, an ATF agent who has been implicated in a separate but concurrent gunwalking operation.  Dodson and his former supervisor, Dave Voth, have both claimed to have been against what has been termed the “Fernandez case,” referred to by Darrell Issa on ABC’s “This Week.”  Fernandez involves six guns that  Dodson purchased and delivered to gun-smuggling suspect Isaias Fernandez on June 1, 2010, according to Fox.  However, there is some dispute on whether Dodson instigated the transfer of guns or was simply following Voth’s orders.

An investigative report by Fortune claims the entire Fast and Furious episode is simply politics run out of control. In defense of Voth, Fortune says the ATF agents were legally limited by what they could do to curb the flow of guns. Arizona statute allows for easy purchase and resale of guns, and ATF had been in hot water for some of its earlier efforts at gun interception and agents’ hands were tied. In spite of ATF’s of gun walking, they unable to convince federal prosecutors to pursue the matter, Fortune said. Prosecutors said they needed more evidence than what had already been put forth.  In order to collect such evidence, the ATF unsuccessfully attempted a wiretap operation and subsequently, the gun smuggling continued.  The fallout was agent Brian Terry’s death and Dodson’s claim that Voth had pursued Fast and Furious despite his and others’ disapproval. Dodson also referred to an email in which Voth cites a “schism” between those who supported walking the guns and those who did not.  However, Voth claims Dodson and others reported events out of context as an attempt at retribution, and the schism referred to wire tapping, not gunwalking. *Update, 6/29/2012: The schism in the email actually referred to disputes among coworkers about the wiretap shift scheduling. Dodson was opposed to working weekends, and agents pulled in to help from other projects did not want to work the less desirable shifts.  Fortune further reported that Dodson walked the guns and then left on vacation without finalizing the operation or successfully tracking the guns.

Politically motivated? Does it matter?

Each side is decrying the political motivations of the other. Republicans cite an anti-gun agenda behind the gunwalking while Democrats see an attempt to embarrass the president during an election year. While there is likely some political motivation on both sides, my main question is whether the public has a right to the information Issa is requesting. Or is Obama’s use of executive privilege — the first in his administration — warranted in interest of preserving the integrity of an ongoing investigation and internal deliberations?

More info:

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email –  wevans@hq.spj.org –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to wevans@HQ.SPJ.org. It may be featured in a future post.

 

Massachusetts town fines for public swearing, First Amendment advocates scratch heads

A small town in Massachusetts has imposed a $20 fine for swearing in public. In order to make punishments for offenses more actionable, residents of Middleborough, Mass., voted to make profanity in a public area punishable by fine, along with public marijuana smoking, drinking and dumping snow in roadways.

A similar measure has been on the books in Middleborough since 1968. However, while swearing was a crime in the 1968 ordinance, the new measure is an attempt to “decriminalize” and make it more likely for the police to enforce.

“…people might end up getting fined for constitutionally protected speech.”  – Matthew Segal, ACLU of Mass. legal director

Rather than limit all swearing, this ordinance aims to curb loud profanity in the parks and downtown areas, city officials said, according to the Washington Post.

I’m really happy about it,” Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman, said after the vote, according to the Asociated Press. “I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary.”

The First Amendment is an obvious concern. Court cases such as Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire and Cohen v. California helped establish freedom of speech. Profanity is allowable under the First Amendment except in cases of true threats, fighting words or an incitement to imminent lawless action.

“If the Massachusetts attorney general approves it, the ordinance would encourage police to ticket speech that is, and likely will eventually be found to be, constitutionally protected,” a Washington Post editorial said.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email –  wevans@hq.spj.org –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to wevans@HQ.SPJ.org. It may be featured in a future post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOI DAILY DOSE: N.J. phone records made more public, Kundra unveiled .gov task force, ACLU asked to return classified doc

N.J. court requires public officials to reveal cell phone call locations

Location, location, location.

That can’t stay secret when it comes to cell phone records, according to a New Jersey court ruling.

Public officials using taxpayer-funded cell phones must disclose the destination of the calls they make because such information is helpful to the public interest, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The court case, Livecchia v. Borough of Mount Arlington, arose after after the borough redacted the locations of calls made by public officials when it filled resident Gayle Ann Livecchia’s records request.

Livecchia and other citizens can use the phone call locations, which must now be disclosed, to find out whether government employees are improperly using their work cells.

Federal task force to evaluate gov websites

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra revealed the names of 17 people who will comprise a .gov task force that will slim down government websites and evaluate potential policy adjustments for running such Web properties in the future.

Those appointed include IT professionals from various federal offices, according to a Government Tech blog post.

This task force complements President Obama’s “Campaign to Cut Waste,” which aims to cut unnecessary expenditures.

This includes paring down the 2,000-plus federal URLs in use.

Here’s a list of 1,759 top Web domains for the executive branch, as well as a Q&A page on the project that includes a list of all task force members.

Gov demands ACLU return classified doc

The federal government wants a judge to order the American Civil Liberties Union to return a classified document that was released to the organization detailing how employees decide which Afghanistan detainees are Enduring Security Threats.

The ACLU must respond to the government’s court filings by July 29, according to the Washington Post’s Checkpoint Washington blog.

The ACLU wants to post the document, which it says was improperly classified, to its website.

The Pentagon gave the organization the document, along with several others, in compliance with a court order requiring their release. The ACLU notified the government about the Afghanistan detainee document on May 25.

– 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).

 

FOI DAILY DOSE: Open gov orgs push for money for E-Gov Fund, ACLU sues for WikiLeaks-released U.S. cables

Transparency groups call on Congress to restore open gov funding

Accountability group OMB Watch released a letter Monday that urged Congress to consider restoring funding for the Electronic Government Fund, or E-Gov Fund.

More than 30 open government groups signed the letter.

The E-Gov Fund supports government websites like USAspending.gov and Data.gov and bolsters transparency initiatives.

The 2011 fiscal year budget deal cut the fund’s financial support from $34 million to $8 million.

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up a bill for the 2012 fiscal year on June 16, which will include information on the E-Gov Fund’s budget.

The letter requests that the subcommittee consider restoring funding for the E-Gov Fund in the measure.

ACLU sues for declassification of U.S. diplomatic cables

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. State Department in an attempt to force the declassification of embassy cables already released by WikiLeaks.

The ACLU’s April FOIA request for 23 cables already released by the website was ignored. Thus, the lawsuit.

WikiLeaks support group plans pro-Manning protest

A Boston-based group called Civic Counsel plans to hold a protest Wednesday opposing the treatment of Bradley Manning and the grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

It will be held in Boston on the day activist and Bradley Manning supporter David House is to appear in court due to a grand jury subpoena.

Manning is accused of leaking U.S. diplomatic cables and other information to WikiLeaks in 2010.

– 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).

FOI DAILY DOSE: FBI’s secret surveillance and a CIA lawsuit for post-9/11 files

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the U.S. Department of Justice clashed over the nondisclosure of a secret legal memo that justifies the FBI’s ability to access citizen phone records without the inclusion of any oversight or legal process.

EFF filed a FOIA lawsuit Thursday demanding release of the memo, according to an EFF press release.

Last year, a report from the DOJ Inspector General stated the FBI had found a new way to justify this telephone access that was corroborated by an opinion issued by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The report was redacted and failed to disclose the statutes that form the backbone of this legal justification and to explain the kinds of records to which the new exception applies.

The CIA is also facing a FOIA lawsuit.

Filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the lawsuit demands records about the CIA Inspector General’s report on the treatment of people detained outside the U.S. after Sept.11. It also requests information on an internal investigation into the Office of the Inspector General itself that was reported in 2007 by The New York Times.

The initial FOIA request was submitted on April 25, according to the lawsuit, but the CIA hasn’t disclosed the records or explained its reasoning for withholding any information.

The lawsuit cites articles about Osama bin Laden’s death and the revival of debates about the use of torture techniques as a key reason for requesting the immediate release of the requested documents.

– 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).

FOI Links: The SEC’s surprise exemption

FOI Links: D.C. Housing Authority withheld documents from court case

FOI Links: The CIA can keep torture tapes and memos secret

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