Illinois Punishes Those Who Make a Lot of FOI Requests. Funny, I Always Thought This Was Called Self-Governance.

This strikes me as an odd time for truly horrific FOI legislation to hit the books, but…

Changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act allow government agencies to delay response times to individuals who are deemed to have made too many requests.

The “recurrent requester” provision of the law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Friday allows government agencies to delay responses up to 21 days for individuals who make more than seven requests in a week, 15 requests in a month or 50 requests in a year. The state’s FOIA law requires government agencies to fulfill information requests within five days, though taxing bodies can demand a five-day extension if they deem the request to be too time-consuming.

In today’s theme, this, again, was a bill many, many state legislatures have considered, and then, after a brief period of sobriety, realized that this is the legislative equivalent of attacking a molehill with a nuclear weapon.

CD

Wyoming Legislature Passes Ultimate Lobbyist and Influence Peddling Privacy Act…

Wow…several states have flirted with passing laws this bad, but hey, Wyoming, way to go! You just manned up and went there, didn’t ya?

State lawmakers voted today to draft legislation that would make emails sent to members of city councils, school boards and other elected bodies exempt from public records law.

The legislation would keep out of public view any correspondence sent directly to members of elected bodies, as long as the documents aren’t sent to a majority of the group.

The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee also directed legislative staffers to add language that would exempt deliberative documents that are “integral parts of the decision-making process.”

Those additions prompted the Wyoming Press Association, which was part of a working group that suggested revisions to the state’s public records law, to immediately pull its support for the draft bill. The two exemptions were proposed by the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, and not the entire working group.

The draft public records bill includes several revisions supported by the press association. But the exemptions were too much to keep the group from splitting.

“That was more of a loss than we gained,” press association Director Jim Angell said after the vote.

The committee also directed legislative staff to draft a revised open meetings law. Those revisions are supported by the government groups and the press association.

Why is this a phenomenally, mind-achingly bad piece of legislation? Well, the most obvious reason is that no one is NOT a constituent, so long as you represent them, including, oh well, let me think: regulated industries, lobbyists, influence peddlers of every stripe…these “constituents” now have an untrammeled one-way walkie talkie called private e-mail for hitting up those lawmakers. Handy!

And of course, this FOI implosion also contains nifty language shielding from disclosure documents that are “”integral parts of the decision-making process.” Of course! Wo wants to know how decisions are made, and what factors might have led to them, and whether they were undue influences? That whole self-governance thing? Boooooring…..

This essentially marks the demise of any functional transparency in Wyoming.

CD

 

 

An Interesting Twist: Government Sues Newspaper….

From my friends at Patch….

The City of Brentwood sued the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Aug. 19 seeking a declaratory judgment from St. Louis County Judge David Vincent concerning a document requested by the newspaper.

According to the petition for declaratory judgment, the document is a copy of a Letter of Understanding regarding the repayment of overtime between Brentwood and Local 2665 IAFF, the union representing the City of Brentwood firefighters.

The Post-Dispatch requested the document as part of an investigation by reporter and Brentwood resident Paul Hampel that exposed more than 24 years of Brentwood firefightersreceiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay for hours they did not work.

President Obama, Tear Down That Classification Scheme!

President George W. Bush and President-elect B...

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This just makes my head explode…from a timely and important op-ed in the New York Times:

A former top official in charge of ensuring that real secrets are kept secret has delivered a stunning repudiation of the Obama administration’s decision to use the Espionage Act against a whistle-blower attempting to expose government waste and abuse.

J. William Leonard, who directed the Information Security Oversight Office during the George W. Bush administration, filed a formal complaint about the prosecution with the Justice Department and the National Security Agency, and urged punishment of officials who needlessly classify documents that contain no actual secrets.

In the case in question, Thomas Drake, an N.S.A. employee, faced 35 years in prison for espionage after he leaked information to a reporter about a potential billion-dollar computer boondoggle. The case collapsed last month with Mr. Drake walking away after a token misdemeanor plea to providing information to an unauthorized person. The government was deservedly berated by Judge Richard Bennett of Federal District Court in Maryland for an “unconscionable” pursuit of the accused across “four years of hell.”

Prosecutors dropped the felony charges at the 11th hour after Judge Bennett ordered them to show allegedly classified material to the jury. But Mr. Leonard said he was willing to testify for Mr. Drake that there were no secrets at issue and that he had never seen “a more deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document.”

The Obama administration has misguidedly used the Espionage Act in five such cases of news media disclosures; previously there were no more than four in all of White House history. This comes as officials classified nearly 77 million documents last year — a one-year jump of 40 percent. The government claim that this was because of improved reporting is not reassuring.

I voted for Obama last time. I will again. This is no secret to anyone who knows me, nor should it be much of a shock, given the alternatives. But it’s high time the access community got past the whole partisanship thing and started pummeling, really pummeling this President, who grows more secretive by the day.

Of course, maybe that is part of the problem: as the lone centrist in presidential politics these days, Obama knows he can repeatedly ignore the will of the openness community in quite a callow way, and the repercussions are nil. He pays no price from his base — much the way W paid no price for his secrecy, couching it in terms of executive power, which was quite the fashion of the day.

Still, we in the access community have a moral obligation to blast the administration for petty, vindictive, small-minded governing, not one iota less a duty than we had during the previous administration. I’m picking up a pen right now, and going to work…

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Fabulous piece on global transparency, and US laggards…

Susan Crawford is a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Cardozo School of Law. She’s provided a nice look at global transparency movements here, as well as the lack of momentum in the United States:

When Brazil’s government buys anything from fighter jets to a fancy villa, details are available online within 24 hours. Such disclosures are a powerful way to combat corruption, and are a model for official openness that could inspire other nations.

Brazil’s online portal started in 2004. Among its contents: information about Brazilian outlays in advance of hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The site includes an online channel for whistleblower complaints.

Because corruption is a major problem in Brazil, timely release of spending data, including daily information about the use of government credit cards, is designed to help the media and opposition politicians in Brazil reveal crooked behavior. If a minister buys a truckload of wine with her government card, or pays off a cousin, someone will notice.

Enthusiasm for open government is taking hold not just in Brazil, but in countries such asKenyaIndia and the U.K. Kenya last month became the first sub-Saharan African country to launch a government-data portal. India is a beehive of activity; it has initiated ambitious plans for providing public services with the help of mobile phones in rural areas and for electronic citizen engagement in government generally.

Great new survey from NFOIC, MLRC on FOI…

Read the whole release here:

While a lack of resources have made news organizations increasingly less inclined to file freedom of information lawsuits, citizens have a growing interest in government transparency and are becoming more active in asserting their right to government information.

The rise of citizen interest and the decline of newsroom aggressiveness are among the findings of an informal open government status study by the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).

Highlighting a trend identified in an earlier assessment, the companion surveys by the two groups show that news organizations, hampered primarily by a lack of resources, are increasingly less inclined to bring lawsuits to enforce compliance under state and federal freedom of information laws.

The online surveys, conducted between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15, are a reprise of a 2009 study, and their findings mirror some of the trends identified then. The 2009 study was part of the inspiration for the creation of the Knight FOI Fund, which provides funding to cover upfront expenses and fees for meritorious access and transparency lawsuits, and is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

FOI At Work: Metal Hip Implants Generate Massive Complaints

or try to do more than your surgeon says to do...

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Read this one carefully as the proud owner of an artificial hip (mine is NOT metal, thankfully!) in the New York Times:

The federal government has received a surge in complaints in recent months about failed hip replacements, suggesting that serious problems persist with some types of artificial hips even as researchers scramble to evaluate the health dangers.

An analysis of federal data by The New York Times indicates that the Food and Drug Administration has received more than 5,000 reports since January about several widely used devices known as metal-on-metal hips, more than the agency had received about those devices in the previous four years combined.

The vast majority of filings appear to reflect patients who have had an all-metal hip removed, or will soon undergo such a procedure because a device failed after only a few years; typically, replacement hips last 15 years or more.

The mounting complaints confirm what many experts have feared — that all-metal replacement hips are on a trajectory to become the biggest and most costly medical implant problem since Medtronic recalled a widely used heart device component in 2007. About 7,700 complaints have been filed in connection with that recall.

Though immediate problems with the hip implants are not life-threatening, some patients have suffered crippling injuries caused by tiny particles of cobalt and chromium that the metal devices shed as they wear.

Hip replacement is one of the most common procedures in the United States and, until a recent sharp decline, all-metal implants — one in which both the artificial ball and cup are made of metal — accounted for nearly one-third of the estimated 250,000 replacements performed each year. According to one estimate, some 500,000 patients have received an all-metal replacement hip.

One of the most problematic devices, the A.S.R., or Articular Surface Replacement, was recalled last year by Johnson & Johnson and accounted for 75 percent of the complaints reviewed by The Times. A precise count of failed implants reported to the F.D.A. is hard to come by because of the agency’s overlapping reporting system, though The Times sought to eliminate duplicate reports about the same incident. Some complaints came from outside the United States.

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FOI At Work: Bloomberg Reveals the Chaos, and Huge Numbers, of the Wall Street Bailout

Morgan Stanley Building

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Some great FOI work here by Bloomberg, telling the tale of just how crazy the financial meltdown really was…

Citigroup and Bank of America were the reigning champions of finance in 2006 as home prices peaked, leading the 10 biggest U.S. banks and brokerage firms to their best year ever with $104 billion of profits.

By 2008, the housing market’s collapse forced those companies to take more than six times as much, $669 billion, in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The loans dwarfed the $160 billion in public bailouts the top 10 got from the U.S. Treasury, yet until now the full amounts have remained secret.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley, got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress….

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Court says White House visitor records are FOIA-able..

Secret Service agents positioned atop the roof...

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A solid ruling on White House visitor records, at last. A recent Obama appointee to the federal bench, at that…note that Judicial Watch was suing the Obama folks to make legally binding a policy the White House was claiming it was doing voluntarily. If only this had been handed down, say, any time in American history before Obama began divulging White House visitor records….

White House visitor records maintained by the Secret Service are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and must be disclosed if not covered by one of the law’s exemptions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell issued the decision on a lawsuit brought by a conservative legal watchdog group, Judicial Watch. The group’s suit sought White House access records from January to September 2009, when President Barack Obama instituted a new and unprecedented policy of releasing the names of nearly all White House visitors.

In the case, Obama’s Justice Department took the position the government had under the Bush administration: that the White House visitor records were not subject to FOIA because they belonged to the president and not the Secret Service. However, Howell rejected that argument.

“The Secret Service argues that it is unable to dispose of the records freely because they are ultimately White House records and not agency records. This argument is circular,” Howell wrote in her 19-page ruling (posted here). “The claimed restrictions on disposal stem from the defendant’s assumption that the documents are under Presidential control — the exact point that the defendant seeks to prove to establish that the documents are not subject to FOIA.”

The Justice Department also argued that the records could implicate national security issues, but Howell said that was no reason to declare all the data requested by Judicial Watch to be beyond the reach of FOIA.

Given the Obama policy to release this information going forward, the implications of Howell’s ruling could be limited. However, if the decision is upheld, it means that what the White House has touted as a voluntary disclosure policy would not be voluntary any more.

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A Nice Look at the Secrecy Epidemic In California…

A former student, Brian Joseph, with a nice look at secrecy in California:

Critics of California’s in-home supportive services program believe there may be scores of people like Joowan Kim.

In February, Kim pled guilty to fraud and is serving three years probation for cheating the program out of $33,345. For nearly two years, Kim claimed to be caring for her developmentally-disabled son in Cypress when in truth he was living at a facility in Buena Park.

Many believe in-home supportive services, which permits family members to become the paid, in-home caregivers of sick and elderly relatives, is rife with this sort of abuse. But the public may never know if it’s really a problem because all caregiver records are secret under state law. Independent review is impossible. Fraud, potentially, is concealed.

This is how it is in the Golden State. Secrecy has seeped into every corner of state government, making it difficult to gauge Sacramento’s effectiveness and discretion. An Orange County Register review of the Government Code found at least 500 provisions that exempt specific records or information from public disclosure while another 16 code sections prohibit the release of broad categories of documents, including every complaint filed with a licensing body or investigatory agency, all communications with members of the Legislature and any document whose release does not serve the public interest. Official secrets are held in every office and department in state government, from food and agriculture, public health and the DMV to corrections, social services and the Legislature, where the Assembly recently made headlines (and drew a lawsuit) over its refusal to release documents related to members’ current budgets.

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