Posts Tagged ‘journalism’


FOI DAILY DOSE: ESPN sues Ohio State, Kundra talks top transparency principles

ESPN suing Ohio State for records withholding

ESPN has sued The Ohio State University for withholding records regarding an NCAA investigation into its football program.

The suit, filed Monday, accuses the university of breaking state public records law, according to The Associated Press. ESPN wants the Ohio Supreme Court to force OSU to release the requested public records and cover court fees.

The university allegedly cited a federal student-records privacy law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, that wasn’t applicable in this situation when it denied ESPN access to various records.

Requested records included emails between former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, who resigned in May, and a mentor to former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor, according to the Columbus Post-Dispatch’s buckeyeXtra.com.

FERPA is designed to ensure student educational records remain confidential, but it is often misused to wrongfully keep records private. SPJ’s online Reporter’s Guide to FERPA has more information on dealing with records roadblocks and related issues.

Vivek Kundra lays out his key points on open government

Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information Officer, testified before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Thursday on government transparency issues.

In his testimony, Kundra mentioned 10 key principles for transparency that he said would serve as helpful guidelines in assessing the federal government’s $3.7 trillion budget.

Kundra’s major points included the importance of using common data standards and ensuring equal access to data.

For more, read Kundra’s entire testimony. You can also see his 10 principles listed without the extra information in this Sunlight Foundation blog post.

Kundra plans to leave his government position in August for a Harvard University Fellowship.

– 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 Tip of the Week: Enviro journalists’ go-to source for FOI stories and ideas

Between global warming debates and data, oil spills, and forest fire disasters, environmental journalists have a ton of ground to cover.

The Society of Environmental Journalists’ biweekly WatchDog TipSheet can help reporters covering environmental topics stay abreast of the latest developments in FOI.

The publication focuses on FOI issues in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to stories on major developments in the environmental field, it also has plenty of story ideas for those looking for a new topic or angle to cover.

There’s also an archive of past issues dating from before May 2009.

It’s easy to keep up with the latest WatchDog TipSheet updates through RSS feeds and free email subscription.

– 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: Alleged leaker bites back with subpoenas, Open Gov Partnership holds first big meeting

CIA leaker throws down with subpoenas for gov. employees

Ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling is tossing his own subpoenas into the mix in the court case investigating his alleged leaking of CIA information to New York Times reporter James Risen.

He is subpoenaing three current or former Senate Intelligence Committee employees, according to Politico.

Sterling’s lawyers filed a motion Monday for subpoenas of records from three committee employees, including its budget chief Lorenzo Goco. They also requested permission to subpoena official records from the Senate.

The staffers were working for the committee when Sterling complained to the panel in 2003 about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, which targeted Iran’s nuclear program and was detailed in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Sterling’s subpoenas could lead to legal conflict over whether internal Senate records are exempt from a defendant’s subpoenas.

These aren’t the first controversial subpoenas filed in the case. Risen has received three subpoenas so far, and is awaiting U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema’s decision on whether she will honor his request to quash the third.

If Sterling’s Senate subpoenas are honored, it could help bolster his defense’s argument that Senate staffers were the culprits for the leak, according to Secrecy News.

U.S. hosted Open Gov Partnership meeting

The State Department held the first major Open Government Partnership meeting Tuesday.

OGP is an international project focused on getting solid commitments from various governments to promote transparency and fight corruption, among other things.

The program could help advance the Obama administration’s plans to use technology to develop better governing methods and strengthen democracy and human rights efforts worldwide, according to the State Department’s website.

Topics at the Tuesday meeting included breakout sessions on encouraging civic participation and promoting transparency efforts. Also covered was technology that could be helpful open government tools for governments.

Scan the meeting agenda and OGP brochure for more details.

Put this one in the “win” category for international cooperation on some of the most important issues in government: being open with citizens about federal information and welcoming their participation.

– 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 Tip of the Week: MuckRock rocks the fine art of FOIA requests

FOIA requests are the bread and butter of quality reporting, but sometimes they can be incredibly annoying. Filling out the forms, hassling agencies to respond to your requests, bugging them again when they ignore your initial hassling – it can get tiring for a reporter who has three other stories to write by 5 p.m.

MuckRock, an open government tool, takes some of the pressure off of reporters by handling the FOIA requests for them.

To get your FOIA request taken care of, go the MuckRock website and type in what information you need. MuckRock staff helps with the rest, getting your request completed and providing the documents in a scanned and searchable format.

The website also provides regular updates on FOI issues on its blog.

You can also browse through the database of other FOIA requests that MuckRock is handling. It includes information on the statuses of various requests.

If a request has been completed that matches the information you’re looking for, you can check out the documents at MuckRock rather than having to file another FOIA request for the same information.

You can also see if someone else has submitted a FOIA request for the same data that’s been denied.

MuckRock was founded by journalist Michael Morisy and Mitchell Kotler, who has worked at various high-tech startup companies.

The Sunlight Foundation, which has provided grant money for the program, is among MuckRock’s supporters.

The next time you need to make a records request for a story, take a few minutes to check out MuckRock’s services first. The site could be a huge help.

– 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: NYT reporter subpoena argued in court, agencies set to revise FOIA policies (maybe)

Judge hears debate on Risen’s motion to quash subpoena

New York Times reporter James Risen’s attorneys argued his case in court Thursday, fighting for his right not to testify in a CIA leak case.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema heard arguments from Risen’s lawyers and from the government, which sought to convince the judge that the reporter’s testimony is a key factor in their case against ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is accused of leaking information about a CIA operation targeting Iran’s nuclear program to Risen.

Information about the operation appeared in the Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Risen’s attorney, Joel Kurtzberg, pointed out that the government hadn’t shown what other available testimonies they had before subpoenaing Risen – a move that should be a last resort only, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Government prosecutors argued that the jury should be privy to information that will provide more certainty in their verdict, including Risen’s testimony.

Risen’s attorneys counter-argued that the prosecution needs to prove that his testimony is a critical, rather than simply supplemental, piece of its case in order to overcome the state shield law.

Risen has said he would testify on information that has already been published or is already known, such as the fact that his writing is accurate and that statements from an unidentified source actually came from an unidentified source. He has said he isn’t willing to reveal any confidential sources. If forced to testify, he could be jailed for his refusal.

Prior to Thursday’s court proceedings, the government responded Wednesday to a court order in which Brinkema asked the court to review Risen’s 2010 subpoena and related documents and decide whether they could be unsealed and released with certain redactions. The judge said this could better inform Sterling’s prosecution, according to Secrecy News.

In response, the government said that the 2010 grand jury proceedings involving Risen should remain secret.

For more information on Thursday’s court arguments, including how the prosecution compared the Sterling case to the recent Casey Anthony case in Florida, read this Politico article by Josh Gerstein.

Agencies with FOIA changes on agendas – will they follow through?

Several government agencies are considering changes to their FOIA regulations in the next six months, according to a Unified Agenda report released Thursday.

Whether these changes will actually come to pass, however, is uncertain.

In recent years, many of the entries agencies have provided for Unified Agenda reports have been for plans that probably wouldn’t be put into action within the next year, according to OMB Watch.

Some of the FOIA regulations listed in Unified Agenda reports have been listed multiple times over the course of several years without being completed.

While the Unified Agenda details the FOIA plans of several agencies, there may be other departments planning similar policy changes that haven’t listed them in their entries for the report because they aren’t explicitly required to include FOIA changes.

– 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: NYT, WSJ reporters face fight against gov over subpoenas

News orgs file brief supporting WSJ reporter in subpoena controversy

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 46 other media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Wall Street Journal reporter Jesse Eisinger’s motion to quash a subpoena calling for his testimony in a New York court case.

The case involves a Massachusetts couple that is suing Goldman Sachs for providing advice for a financial partnership that failed when the technology company they were dealing with collapsed under problems with financial fraud.

Eisinger (now a reporter for ProPublica and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner) is called to testify on how he found information about the company’s financial issues, which the couple argues Goldman Sachs should also have been able to find if they had done a thorough investigation.

A trial judge said she doubted whether Eisinger’s testimony would be relevant in the case, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

SPJ has spoken out in Eisinger’s defense as well.

Gov hanging tough in subpoena against Risen

New York Times reporter James Risen may have a tough fight in court July 7 as he fights a federal subpoena in a CIA leak case.

Government prosecutors highlighted the need for Risen’s testimony in their case against Jeffrey Sterling. The ex-CIA officer is accused of leaking information about an agency operation involving Iran’s nuclear program to Risen.

The federal government believes Risen’s input is critical to the case because the testimony of Sterling’s wife from a grand jury investigation may not be available in the trial due to spousal privilege, prosecutors said.

An intelligence officer who learned that Sterling may have been a source for Risen may be unable to testify in the trial as well due to hearsay rules, which a government brief argues makes Risen an even more important player in the case.

The New York Times’ decision not to run the story on the CIA operation (although information about it later appeared in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration”) may also weaken arguments for quashing the subpoena, according to Politico.

The prosecution’s brief also said that the idea of a “good leak” of information shouldn’t be entertained by the court because any unauthorized disclosure of classified data undermines the entire system.

In his motion to quash the subpoena, Risen asked the court to consider merits of the leak in terms of the public interest served by newsgathering, according to a Secrecy News blog post.

– 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 Fail of the Week: Two reporters arrested at D.C. public meeting

Even at a public meeting, journalists aren’t always free to report a story as they see fit.

U.S. Park Police officers arrested two reporters at a June 22 Taxi Commission meeting in Washington, D.C. A commission staff member told the officers to make the arrests, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Peter Tucker of thefightback.org was arrested for taking photographs of the meeting, while Jim Epstein of Reason TV was later arrested for filming the initial arrest.

Check out Epstein’s personal account of the incident.

They were arrested for “disorderly conduct and unlawful entry.” But “unlawful entry” of a public meeting?

D.C.’s open meetings law doesn’t include specific provisions addressing the photographing or filming of public meetings, according to a Washington Post blog.

Unless taking photos or video of a public meeting specifically violates an area’s public meetings law, reporters shouldn’t be punished – and certainly shouldn’t be arrested – for doing so.

– 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: Google releases transparency data, NYT articles explore Obama-era open gov

Google: U.S. government biggest requester of private info

Google released transparency information showing the U.S. government to be the biggest requester of private information.

From July to Dec. 2010, the U.S. requested user data 4,601 times. Google complied with 94 percent of those requests, according to a Guardian article.

Brazil had the second-highest number of requests at 1,804, while India took third place with 1,699 requests. The United Kingdom placed fourth with 1,162 requests.

Google’s compliance rate varied by country – India had 79 percent of its requests filled, while the U.K. had 72 percent of them partially or entirely completed.

Private user information was requested more than 14,000 times in the second half of 2010 in 26 developed nations.

NYT articles scrutinize open government under Obama

Two recent New York Times articles took aim at transparency under the Obama administration.

The first piece, a June 25 story by Natasha Singer, focuses on the need for faster, more comprehensive FOIA compliance and overall transparency at the federal level.

Obama called on government agencies to become more open on day one of his presidency, yet only 49 of 90 agencies have made changes to their FOIA procedures in the two-and-a-half years since Obama entered the Oval Office, according to a National Security Archive study.

The story explores some problematic government practices regarding FOIA and methods being pursued to potentially improve the situation, such as the Faster FOIA Act.

It also looks at the still-undisclosed records regarding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage companies bailed out by the government using taxpayer dollars, as examples of government information that should be readily available but remain private.

A June 26 NYT editorial by Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, questions whether Obama has been a strong supporter of transparency as president.

The verdict: Kind of, but not really.

Stone acknowledges that Obama has taken some action to scale back the Bush administration’s legacy of anti-transparency, but he also points out ways in which Obama has perpetuated it.

One open government success for Obama was his repeal of a 2001 directive by Bush-era Attorney General John D. Ashcroft that allowed the government to classify any information that might hurt national security if disclosed.

As for Obama’s transparency failures, Stone mentions a few key problems. These include the president’s lack of support for whistleblowers and his flip-flopping on the issue of a federal journalist-source privilege, which would allow reporters to better protect their sources’ identities.

When he was a senator, Obama supported the Free Flow of Information Act, which aimed to provide federal protections for journalists. As president, he raised objections to the proposed bill before it later stalled in the Senate.

SPJ has been one of many journalism organizations and news outlets calling for such a law.

– 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 Tip of the Week: New online FOI training videos for SPJ members posted

The folks here at SPJ are dedicated to providing high-quality tips and training for professional journalists on topics ranging from social media to narrative writing.

But one of the pillars of journalism most dear to our hearts is, without a doubt, the public’s right to freedom of information.

Public records provide journalists with some of their hardest-hitting stories, and this week SPJ added new training videos to its website to show members how to get the most use out of public records in their communities.

We posted five new FOI training videos to the site Monday that are accessible to all SPJ members. (If you’re not a member of SPJ, you won’t be able to access them. Unless, that is, you head over to the website and become a member – thereby gaining access to the FOI videos and loads of other useful training materials.)

The videos focus on various aspects of FOI, including how to request electronic records, overcome wrongful agency denials and get speedier responses to requests.

The videos feature tips from SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier and include cameos from your SPJ HQ staff.

Once you’ve finished watching the FOI videos, you can hone your freelancing chops by checking out the new freelance-focused videos we just added as well.

All videos are part of SPJ’s ECAMPUS: Where Journalists Go to Know training program.

– 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: Colo. governor’s cell phone records deemed private, NYT reporter fights subpoena in CIA leak case

Colorado governor’s cell phone records kept private

The Colorado Supreme Court may have handed public officials a new way to keep business discussions free from public scrutiny – make the calls on a private cell phone.

The court ruled Monday that former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s private cell phone records would remain private, crushing The Denver Post’s three-year fight to obtain the information.

In a 4-2 decision, the court decided that the records aren’t covered under the state public records law because Ritter paid for the phone personally with no state reimbursements and didn’t give billing statements to a state agency. He only kept the statements for payment reasons, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Post tried to convince the court that the phone records should be public because the governor used his private cell to make calls during business hours and to discuss official issues.

This ruling could allow other public officials to keep business matters off-the-record by discussing them via private cell phones – an allowance that could cloud government transparency efforts.

NYT reporter James Risen fights subpoena

New York Times reporter James Risen and his attorneys requested Tuesday that a court quash a grand jury subpoena that would force him to testify in the case against CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling.

The ex-CIA officer is accused of providing Risen with classified information.

Sterling allegedly provided information on CIA sabotage efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program, which later appeared in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Risen’s attorneys argued that the subpoena represented a government effort to retaliate against the reporter for writing critically of the government and that the information sought by the subpoena was protected under the reporter’s privilege supported by the First Amendment and through federal common law.

Check out Risen’s affidavit on the issue and a response from Sterling’s attorneys also arguing against the subpoena on the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News website.

Risen’s motion to quash the subpoena is scheduled for a court hearing on July 7.

– 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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