Federal Judge Says USDA Can release Missouri Dog Breeding Info

This FOIA victory is bound to unveil some rich reporting data:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture can release the revenue and sales data of Missouri dog breeders and dealers to the Humane Society, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg held that the agency’s decision to release the data was not arbitrary or capricious.

A group of breeders and dealers had asked the judge to block the agency from releasing information that it claimed was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Humane Society of the United States had filed multiple FOIA requests in 2009, seeking reports that breeders and dealers file annually with the USDA. Those reports list their gross revenue and/or commissions from the past year’s dog sales, the number of dogs bought and sold that year and, for dealers, the difference between the sale price and purchase price of those dogs.

Missouri breeders and dealers claimed that the Humane Society sought the information “to destroy” their businesses.

They argued that data about their annual sales revenue and volume were protected by two FOIA exemptions: one for privileged or confidential “trade secrets and commercial or financial information” and another for files for which disclosure would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The USDA initially redacted the revenue and sales data before releasing the reports, but later backtracked, concluding that the forms were not protected by either exemption. It explained that much of the information included in the annual reports is publicly available, and that disclosure was unlikely to cause “substantial competitive harm.”

Full story here.

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Bloomberg Puts Obama Administration to the FOIA Test

This will leave a mark…

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama ordered federal officials to “usher in a new era of open government” and “act promptly” to make information public.

As Obama nears the end of his term, his administration hasn’t met those goals, failing to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, according to an analysis of open-government requests filed by Bloomberg News.

Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: The cost of travel by top officials. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.

“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’” said Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007.

Full article here

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Oh Yeah, It’s an Insane Clown Posse FOI Story!

This is bound to do wonders for our analytics…

Insane Clown Posse have officially sued the FBI for information about what prompted the agency to list the group’s “Juggalo” fans as a gang, according to a statement on the group’s website.

The suit, filed earlier this week, claims the FBI improperly withheld records Insane Clown Posse had requested under the Freedom of Information Act. ICP sought records regarding an investigation that landed the Juggalos in the government’s National Gang Threat Assessment report in 2011. Parts of the report describe Juggalos as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang” and said they “exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence.”

Rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope announced in August at the Gathering of the Juggalos that they intended to sue. “We are not a gang!” the group’s statement reads. “We are a family! We come together for our luv of the Insane Clown Posse, Psychopathic Records and our Juggalo pride. Can we take a fuckin’ second to note that Jimmy Buffett’s Parrot Heads, Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, Justin Bieber’s Beliebers, the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads and many more haven’t been labeled as a gang?”

Read more here

Insane Clown Posse

Cover of Insane Clown Posse

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Nice little FOI-driven daily story on the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry ending on the gridiron. Wish that folks would add a “MADE POSSIBLE BY OPEN RECORDS…” button on these stories.

Notre Dame is opting out of its series with Michigan, meaning the last scheduled game between college football’s winningest programs will take place in 2014.

A letter from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon cancelling games in 2015-17 was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Brandon told the AP he was handed the letter on the field in South Bend, Ind., about an hour before Saturday night’s game.

“I put the letter in my pocket and didn’t bother to read it right away because I was focused on the game we were about to play,” Brandon said. “I read it on the way home Sunday morning.”

More here.

Climate Scientist Prevails in FOI Battle at UVA

Climate scientist Michael Mann reported Monday that he and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have prevailed in a court case against the conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI), which had sought access to emails he wrote while serving as a professor at the school from 1999-2005.

Now at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Mann says the ruling supports the University of Virginia’s argument than an exemption to the state’s freedom-of-information law “applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work”. The Prince William County Circuit Court ruling came directly from the bench in and was not immediately available online.

“This finding is a potentially important precedent, as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientist through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences,” Mann said in an announcement on his Facebook page.

The University of Virginia initially signed an agreement with ATI that would have granted ATI officials access to the emails, but at a contentious hearing in November 2011 university officials changed course and decided to fight. At the same hearing, Mann prevailed in his effort to formally join the lawsuit and defend himself alongside the university (see Climate scientist wins his day in court).

More here.

2012 Secrecy Report Card Released…

The 2012 Secrecy Report released today by OpenTheGovernment.org — a coalition of more than 80 groups advocating for open and accountable government— reveals that positive changes from the Obama administration’s open government policies nevertheless appear diminished in the shadow of the President’s bold promise of unprecedented transparency. Ultimately, though, the public needs more information to judge the size, shape, and legitimacy of the government’s secrecy.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said “In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the launch of multiple wars, we chronicled a major growth in the secrecy of the federal government. The Obama Administration has set policies that are starting to turn the tide in favor of open government. But, as far as we can tell from existing numbers, those policies have yet to fully change the direction of government.”

Efforts to open the government continue to be frustrated by a governmental predisposition towards secrecy, especially in the national security bureaucracy. Among the troubling trends: the National Declassification Center will not meet its goal for declassifying old records on time; the government continues to use the state secrets privilege in the same way it did prior to release of a new procedural policy; and the volume of documents marked “Classified” continues to grow, with little assurance or reason offered for the decision that the information properly needs such protection.

The report also indicates some of the Administration’s openness policies are having a positive effect. The federal government received and processed significantly more public requests for information than in previous years. The Office of Special Counsel is also on track to deliver an all-time high number of favorable actions for federal employees who have been victims of reprisal, or other prohibited personnel practices, for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. Even in the national security field, there is some progress: most notably, the total amount of money requested for intelligence for the coming year was formally disclosed. This is a tremendous success because such disclosure was resisted by government officials for so long. Additionally, the number of people with the authority to create new secrets continued to drop…

Read the full report here.

The report’s contributors will be “hosting a twitter chat from 4 – 5pm (eastern) on Tuesday, September 18. Please follow #secrecy12″
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Texas AG’s War With Washington Costing Dearly…

A nice piece of FOI-driven reportage:

The slogan goes, “Don’t Mess With Texas.” But with President Barack Obama in the White House a more appropriate cry might be: “Try it and

texas our texas

texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

we’ll sue.”

The Texas attorney general’s office has filed 24 lawsuits against the federal government since Obama took office — litigation that has cost the state $2.58 million and more than 14,113 hours spent by staff and state lawyers working those cases.

Many of those have resulted in defeats, including the recent high-profile lawsuits defending Texas’ strict law requiring voters to show picture ID at the polls and the new state-approved voting districts that a federal appeals court ruled were discriminatory toward minorities.

Those two cases alone cost more than $2 million, according to records obtained by The Associated Press using the Freedom of Information Act.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the costs are worth it, calling the litigation “a fight against the unprecedented ideology coming from the Obama administration.” In an interview, he said the legal battles he wages are meant to promote industry and protect Texas jobs.

 

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