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.

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