FOI At Work: The List of Institutions Who Can Fly Drones

Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the FAA has released a list of institutions that have asked for Certificates of Authorizations (COA) to fly drones in the United States.

That fact that the U.S. Air Force, DARPA and Department of Homeland Security are flying drones is no surprise. But what about the other institutions on the list?

It includes a number of universities from all over the country, including Cornell University, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State University and Eastern Gateway Community College. It makes sense for universities to have access to U.S. airspace to fly drones — after all, they are the ones doing a lot of the research on new drone technologies, so they might as well be able to test their own creations near campus.

More ominous is the list of local police forces given the green light to fly drones: Arlington, Houston, North Little Rock, Miami-Dade County, Seattle, Polk County, FL and Gadsden, AL.

Read more: http://techland.time.com/2012/04/23/faa-reveals-list-of-colleges-and-police-departments-that-can-fly-drones/#ixzz1svbVViOR

Georgia Guv Signs Huge FOI Reform Bill Into Law!

Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping revision of the state’s Open Records Act that strengthens the public’s access to records and documents.

House Bill 397, which took effect upon Deal’s signature, is the first major rewrite of Georgia’s sunshine laws in more than a decade. New provisions in the open records and meetings laws increase fines for offenders. The maximum penalty of $500 is now $1,000, and offenders who commit repeat violations within a year face fines of up to $2,500.

Previously, the sunshine laws allowed only criminal complaints to be filed against suspected violators, meaning a prosecutor would have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The rewrite now allows the filing of civil complaints, which have a lower burden of proof.

The rewrite also would provide new exemptions for some gatherings of governing bodies, such as allowing a quorum of members to attend the same civic function, receive training or visit government agencies — provided no official business is discussed or transpires. It also reduces the cost of most documents disclosed under the Open Records Act from 25 cents to 10 cents per page…

The Intersection of Privacy and Access…

This fascinating and informative post from the wonderful Citizen Media Law Project brings the latest in the ongoing saga of requests for police dashcam videos in Seattle, raising timely issues of law, technology and policing…

A must read.

A Great FOI-Driven Data Visualization On Parking Tickets…

The Wilmington, Delaware, Gannett site has created a really cool visualization….The News Journal acquired eight years worth of parking ticket data from the City of Wilmington that shows where and when vehicles are ticketed.

Check it out…very cool!

Iowa Moves A Giant Step Forward Towards An FOI Office…

Great news from Iowa, which has moved one big step closer to creating a state FOI obudsman…

Iowa lawmakers on Tuesday moved a big step closer to creating a long-sought state agency for enforcing open-records laws and ensuring access to government.

The House voted 92-7 to establish the Iowa Public Information Board, and a leading senator indicated her chamber was likely to pass the bill as well.

“This is just a win-win for the citizens of Iowa,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. “We finally have a public information board that will help to ensure that citizens have access to public records and make sure that elected officials are following the open-meetings law.”

The bill, Senate File 430, creates a new state agency guided by a nine-member panel that will mediate disputes between governments and record-seekers and issue rulings on alleged open-records and open-meetings violations.

The agency also will be tasked with training government officials on the intricacies of the law and educating the public on their rights to access government information.

“The bill seeks a culture of more open government, and the result will be a better-equipped citizen participant putting trust back into our system,” said Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, who managed the bill’s progress in the House.

The law creating the new agency also includes a more accessible process for members of the public and the media to pursue records from the state and local governments such as cities, counties and school boards.

FOI at Work: Overtime Pay

This is one of FOI’s lowest hanging pieces of fruit — looking at overtime pay records. More often than not, they yield gold. Here is a beauty from Montgomery County, Maryland

Dozens of firefighters, correctional and police officers and transportation employees in Montgomery County are doubling or nearly doubling their salaries with overtime pay.

More than 280 employees earned more than $30,000 last year in overtime pay, according to records obtained by The Washington Examiner under a freedom of information act request. Fewer than 1,000 employees did not earn any overtime.

The employees who earned the most overtime pay — 14 of the 15 highest overtime earners were firefighters — raked in more than $200,000 between overtime and their normal salaries in 2011.

Virginia Supremes to Hear Interesting Sunshine Case

This is a case worth watching, as this issue bedevils FOI advocates across the country: officials using e-mail to skirt open meetings laws…

Virginia’s Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday in a case arising from Fairfax County schools that could impose new limits on how elected officials use e-mail to discuss public business.

The key question is whether hundreds of e-mails, which Fairfax School Board members sent to one another before a controversial vote to close Clifton Elementary School, constituted secret meetings in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act…

In the Fairfax case, justices will have to determine whether School Board members’ e-mails involved “virtually simultaneous interaction.”

That is the standard the state Supreme Court set in 2004, when it decided that e-mails sent among Fredericksburg City Council members — at intervals ranging from four hours to two days apart — were not “virtually simultaneous” and thus did not count as a meeting.

FOI At Work: There is a “Callin’ the Hogs” Line Somewhere, But I’m Gonna Let It Go…..

The man has suffered plenty, and then along came this…

Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and his mistress exchanged more than 4,300 text messages and nearly 300 phone calls over the past seven months — on game days, before dawn and even as the police report that hastened his downfall was being released to the public, according to a review of his business cellphone records by The Associated Press.

The messages, among some 300 pages of records released under a Freedom of Information Act request, appear to include picture and video files, though there was no way to verify the content. But the records clearly show a married father of four in frequent contact with Jessica Dorrell, a 25-year-old former Razorbacks volleyball player.

Petrino was fired Tuesday night for failing to disclose his relationship with Dorrell, whom he hired last month without disclosing his conflict of interest or the fact he had once paid her $20,000. Athletic director Jeff Long said he had determined their relationship had been ongoing for a “significant” amount of time, but he did not say for how long.

The phone records show that Petrino remained in close contact with Dorrell following the April 1 motorcycle accident in which Petrino suffered four broken ribs, a cracked neck vertebra and scrapes and bruises

That day, Petrino and Dorrell went for a motorcycle ride on a two-lane highway southeast of Fayetteville and skidded off the road. Petrino and Dorrell talked for 16 minutes earlier that day before the crash at 6:45 p.m., and they also had a 22-minute conversation the following day — while Petrino was apparently still in the hospital recovering.

The traditional "running hog" image ...

The traditional "running hog" image is once again the official logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Well, I’m Glad We Worked That Out. Too Bad It Took A State Supreme Court…

Is it just me, or did you think we had kind of already settled this point of law a decade ago?

Accident reports compiled by troopers and maintained in a state database should be treated as public records available by request, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Justices said in their 7-2 decision that the Washington State Patrol improperly withheld files from a person seeking location-specific records. He was asked to sign a document vowing that he would not use the records to sue the state.

The state had argued that a federal statute shielded the records because the documents were located in an electronic database that the Department of Transportation utilized for a federal hazard elimination program.

“Until 2003, citizens have been able to request and receive copies of accident reports specific to a location,” Justice Mary E. Fairhurst said in the majority opinion. “The state now asks us to place Washington citizens in a worse position than they would have been before (the federal statute). The state’s argument is rejected.”

The court also awarded plaintiff Michael Gendler an unspecified amount of attorney’s fees for the case. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Rob McKenna says attorneys are reviewing the decision to see what options they might have.

Gendler was paralyzed from the neck down in an October 2007 bike crash after his tire got caught in a grate on the Montlake Bridge in Seattle. He sued the state, claiming a gap between steel panels was more than a half-inch wide – enough to catch a bike tire.

Hey, You Know Those Dash Cams We Said Would Bring Needed Transparency? You Can’t See ‘Em

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 30:  A Seattle Police Depar...

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 30: A Seattle Police Department spokesman Jeff Keppel addresses the media following a search for a suspect in the killing of four police officers November 30, 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Police are still searching for Maurice Clemmons, a suspect who allegedly shot and killed four police officers at a coffee shop November 29. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

KOMO, in Seattle, won a major victory — with an ironic twist, and one that will keep them waiting up to three years to see police dashboard cam videos. The irony? When they asked for millions of dollars to buy the cameras, openness was one of the major selling points…

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers sued the Seattle Police Department for withholding dash-cam videos — videos that have proven to be damning, even incriminating, for the department.

A King County judge has fined the department for not giving KOMO 4 database information about the videos, but he still says Seattle police can withhold dash-cam video from the public for three years.

Those dash-cam videos can supply potentially critical evidence. They’re also public records.

That’s why KOMO sued the police department for not releasing the public records, which the media and the public has the right to see.

“The public should have access to these videos,” said KOMO attorney Judith Endejan.

KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder spent more than a year investigating the department and fighting for access to the police videos recorded on the dashboard of their patrol cars.

“These videos are clearly public record and the thing that’s ironic is when the system was purchased several years ago by the city, the police chief the mayor, they all touted the fact that we were spending several millions of dollars to improve public accountability,” Endejan said.

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