The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. 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.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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October 21, 2011 1:07 PM

A few items selected from many of interest recently.

Federal court rules that petition signers’ names can be made public

COLUMBIA, Mo. (October 21, 2011) — The Washington Coalition for Open Government and freedom of information advocates everywhere are celebrating a major victory in a case supported by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Knight FOI Fund.

Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle granted the release of the names and addresses of Washington citizens who two years ago signed Referendum 71 petitions. The referendum was an attempt by Protect Marriage Washington to bring to a public vote the state’s newly-expanded domestic-partnership law that allowed same-sex couples the same health benefits provided to married, heterosexual couples. While the referendum passed, Washingtonians ultimately voted to keep the law intact.

When a gay-rights activist said he would reveal the names of the signers, Protect Marriage sued the state to block release of the names. Secretary of State Sam Reed was joined by the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG), a member of NFOIC, and Washington Families Standing Together in supporting the release of the records pursuant to the Washington Public Records Act.

 

See NFOIC's story for the rest.

Delaware's Gov. Markell calls for overhaul of state FOIA policies

Gov. Jack Markell signed an executive order [October 20] intended to simplify the process for Delaware citizens looking to access government documents through the Freedom of Information Act. ... The executive order will require all executive branch agencies to adopt a standard policy for requests in order to streamline the process and make it less costly to the requester.

Visit DoverPost.com for the rest.

Feds' social media use increases

Federal employees are increasingly turning to social media websites for work and personal use, particularly as more agencies lift restrictions on access, according to a new survey. The new Social Media in the Public Sector study, released Tuesday by Market Connections, found that just 19 percent of agencies ban access to some or all social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is down sharply from 2010, when 55 percent of agencies banned access.

Visit Nextgov for the rest.

The state of open data 2011

What is the state of the open data movement? Yesterday, during my opening keynote at the Open Government Data Camp (held this year in Warsaw, Poland) I sought to follow up on my talk from last year's conference. Here's my take of where we are today (I'll post/link to a video of the talk as soon as the Open Knowledge Foundation makes it available).

Visit David Eaves for the rest.

Voice of the Free Press: Committee on fence about open government

A swift decision by a legislative committee to reject a new exemption to the state's public-records law is an encouraging sign for open government in Vermont. More worrisome is the decision by the same lawmakers to continue looking at restricting access to how much of a break homeowners get in state property taxes. The underlying issue in both cases is how much information taxpayers can get about how their money is being spent. Without transparency, there's no way to find out who benefits from state policies.

Visit Burlington Free Press for the rest.

Arkansas Attorney General McDaniel confident of reversal in FOIA challenge

Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was confident Thursday during a visit to Mountain Home that the state's Supreme Court will reverse a circuit judge's ruling against the criminal, punitive provisions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Visit baxterbulletin.com for the rest.

October 20, 2011 1:29 PM

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

A federal court in Washington state lifted an order preventing the release of the identities of more than 137,000 people who signed a 2009 petition to challenge a Washington law that would extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Monday's ruling follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Doe v. Reed, in which the Court rejected the argument that allowing any disclosure of referendum petitions under the state public records act violated individuals' First Amendment rights, but sent the case back to the lower court to determine if such records should be released in this particular case.

First, the district court noted that the organization seeking to keep the names and addresses of the petition signers from being released, Protect Marriage Washington, would have to show "a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure [of personal information] will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties."

The court went on to explain that, traditionally, courts have never allowed parties to resist disclosure where “a group, organization, or political party . . . did not have minor status.” With respect to the Referendum 71 petition signers, the court found that they were unlike groups which have received such protection from disclosure in the past in part because of their minority status, such as the NAACP and the Socialist Worker Party.

Also, see this opinion from the News Tribune.

October 20, 2011 1:25 PM

From Politico:

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) asked a local paper not to publicize her town hall meeting out of concern that it would attract protesters, a new report says.

One of Herrera Beutler’s staffers contacted the Washington newspaper The Chronicle to invite them to cover a town hall meeting. However, the office requested that the newspaper not announce the details in advance of the town hall, according to another local newspaper, The Columbian.

October 20, 2011 1:22 PM

From The Republic:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A western Arkansas judge has refused a request from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to review a ruling against part of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, a move likely to send the case to the state Supreme Court.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox said in a brief letter Tuesday that he didn't see the need to temporarily halt the effect of his Oct. 4 ruling declaring that the criminal penalty of the state sunshine law was unconstitutional.

October 19, 2011 4:27 PM

From opensource.com:

Where do you start to standardize legislative information for all 50 United States? Blazing an open data trail for one state government isn't easy, so shifting 50 must be nearly impossible. Or is it? The Open State Project is making progress towards the impossible—and closing in on the goal.

[...]

James Turk is a developer and open source coordinator for Sunlight Labs. Using an open source approach, Turk is over halfway to completing the impossible—scraping and standardizing legislative information from all 50 states.. And the best part is that states are seeing the value in open data and making changes where they have an impact—directly at the source. Turk has a great story about how Open States is a key influencer for a more open government.

October 19, 2011 4:15 PM

October 19, 2011

From KUT News:

Open government advocates have been hounding the city for years over its not so easy to access reservoirs of public data – everything from public safety information to 3-1-1 calls to public transit usage. New data processing and visualization tools make examining the information easier, which can help to increase government transparency.

Austin was selected last week as a partner city with Code for America, a non-profit organization that connects developers with people who deliver city services. Code for America receives funding from the Knight Foundation and Microsoft among many others.

October 19, 2011 10:26 AM

October 19, 2011

From New York Post:

A lawsuit by a good-government group seeking the names and annual pensions of New York City Police Pension Fund retirees was quashed by a panel of three Appellate Division judges yesterday, setting up a battle in the state’s highest court.

“If allowed to stand, this decision will be a massive blow to open government and transparency in New York,” said Timothy Hoefer, director of the Albany-based Empire Center.

October 18, 2011 2:42 PM

October 18, 2011

from O'Reilly Radar:

There's a growing international movement afoot worldwide to open up government data and make something useful with it. Civic apps based upon open data are emerging that genuinely serve citizens in a beneficial ways that officials may have not been able to deliver, particularly without significant time or increased expense

For every civic app, however, there's a backstory that often involves a broad number of stakeholders. Governments have to commit to open up themselves but will in many cases need external expertise or even funding to do so. Citizens, industry and developers have to use the data, demonstrating that there's not only demand but skill outside of government to put open data to work in the service of accountability, citizen utility and economic opportunity. Galvanizing the co-creation of civic services, policies or apps isn't easy but the potential of the civic surplus attracted the attention of governments around the world

October 18, 2011 12:03 PM

October 18, 2011

From HeraldNet:

The public could know soon who signed petitions to put the question of expanded rights for same-sex couples up for a [Washington] statewide vote in 2009.

[Monday], a federal judge ruled the names of the 138,000 people who signed petitions for Referendum 71 can be disclosed to the public.

October 14, 2011 5:33 PM

A few items selected from many of interest recently.

Federal Chief Information Officer pay report

In this report, FierceGovernmentIT looked at base pay for federal CIOs in 2010. The average salary among the 16 CIOs in this report was $166,982. Four CIOs tied for the highest salary in 2010, raking in $179,700. Click through the site's slideshow or use the index to see the salaries of CIOs at agencies like the EPA and NASA.

All salary data was gathered from Data Universe, a database of public information collected and made searchable by Asbury Park Press. According to Paul D'Ambrosio, investigations editor at APP, the publication obtains all Data Universe information through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Visit FierceGovernmentIT for the rest.

Judge blocks release of government documents over Kagan's role in health care law

A federal judge on Friday turned aside a request the Justice Department turn over more documents related to the role Justice Elena Kagan played in appeals over the sweeping health care law, while she was a top Obama administration official.

Two conservative groups –Judicial Watch and Media Research Center– had separately sued, calling "inadequate" the documentation earlier released by the government, following a Freedom of Information Act request.

Visit CNN PoliticalTicker for the rest.

Dodd-Frank Meeting Logs

Every day, lobbyists and executives from Wall Street firms, big banks, insurance companies and others are meeting with financial regulators. They are pressing their case on how the federal financial agencies implement the massive Dodd-Frank financial law, which required more than 240 rulemakings. In the spirit of transparency, the major agencies have been posting records of their meetings with these outside representatives. However, until now it was necessary to visit each agency's website to obtain this information, which is reported at different time intervals and in varying formats. With the Dodd-Frank meeting log tracker, now it is possible to find all the meetings in one place.

Visit Sunlight Foundation for the rest.

U.S. Copyright Czar Cozied Up to Content Industry, E-Mails Show

Top-ranking Obama administration officials, including the U.S. copyright czar, played an active role in secret negotiations between Hollywood, the recording industry and ISPs to disrupt internet access for users suspected of violating copyright law, according to internal White House e-mails.

The e-mails, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, (.pdf) show the administration’s cozy relationship with Hollywood and the music industry’s lobbying arms and its early support for the copyright-violation crackdown system publicly announced in July.

Visit Wired for the rest.

Former Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer received $1 million in final compensation, records show

Former Florida coach Urban Meyerreceived a $1 million payment from the school's University Athletic Association after his tenure ended.

Documentation provided to the Orlando Sentinel in response to a Freedom of Information request shows that on April 22 the UAA cut a check for the amount of Meyer's retention bonus in his football contract.

Visit Orlando Sentinel for the rest.

October 13, 2011 12:10 PM

Oct. 13, 2011

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is heading to the state Supreme Court in what will likely be a legal battle over whether prosecutors can pursue misdemeanor criminal charges for violations of the broadly-worded law.

The case centers around Circuit Judge James Cox's ruling declaring parts of the state’s FOIA unconstitutional. Cox wrote in his decision that the definition of “meeting” and the criminal penalties for violations contained in the law are "unconstitutionally vague."

Read the full article at the RCFP website

October 11, 2011 6:10 PM

Oct. 11, 2011

From First Amendment Coalition:

The First Amendment Coalition, with the aid of a NFOIC grant, has announced their new Open-Gov app for smartphones running the Android OS.

The app was completed on July 15, 2011, and is now available for free download in the Android market through this link. The app will be debuting in the Amazon App store soon.

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