Who Languishes in IND Detention Centers? We Can’t Tell Ya…

Nice look at an absolutely infuriating developmen

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

t….

Who’s being held in immigration detention centers?

lawsuit filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this week hopes to shed more light on that, asking for information like the demographic breakdown of detainees and internal inspection records of all detention facilities.

But the goal of the suit, filed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering organization based at Syracuse University, is about much more than just getting this information.

“We’re trying to establish the principle that they have to give us data,” said David Burnham, co-director of TRAC. “We’ve been negotiating with them for years at the administrative level.”

Since 9/11, the flow of information from federal agencies like ICE has tightened, and courts have backed them up. That includes aggregate data that doesn’t identify individuals by name.

The rationale is something legal scholars call the “mosaic theory.” The idea is that tiny bits of information might seem innocuous, but when used collectively, could be a threat to national security.

Perhaps the most notable example of information-turned-dangerous goes back to the trials over the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which some say help enabled the 9/11 attacks. During the trial, U.S. government intelligence-gathering methods were made public.

The mosaic theory has existed in case law since 1972, but was more aggressively employed by the Bush administration and continues to be applied by the Obama administration, according to Charles N. Davis, professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sometimes the good guys win…

This is a heartwarming FOI tale of persistence and truth prevailing in the end. The feel-good story of the week!

After generations of having their hopes dashed by immovable bureaucrats, dismissive officials and deferential judges, advocates of open government can hardly be blamed for being skeptical about the effectiveness of freedom of information laws. As the recent Illinois decision in Rock River Times v. Rockford Public School District shows, however, sometimes those laws actually work — at least in the end.

The document at issue in Rock River Times was a June 19, 2010, letter written by Patrick Hardy, a departing high school principal, to LaVonne Sheffield, then a controversial superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, one of Illinois’ largest school districts. In the nine-page, single-spaced letter, Hardy disputed Sheffield’s version of many events and accused Sheffield of poor leadership, dishonest management and excessive drinking.

Having heard about it, The Rock River Times, a small community newspaper, requested a copy of Hardy’s letter on Aug. 26, 2010, under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. On Sept. 1, the school district — following the procedures required by the act — advised the Times and Illinois’ Public Access Counselor that it intended to deny the request….

But wait!

…On Oct. 3, 2012, the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District unanimously affirmed the trial judge’s decision, holding that the judge had correctly applied the amendments regarding awards of attorney’s fees and finding that the penalty was appropriate. In affirming the penalty, the appellate court was particularly troubled by the district’s reliance on the purported “verbal opinion” of the public-access counselor.

“Not only did the school willfully and intentionally violate the FOIA by raising a third exemption after the first two were denied,” the court said, but it also “‘looked for a way to save face’ rather than simply admit it was wrong.”

YES! Game, set, match, openness….

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Looming Fight Over Donor Disclosure in Idaho

This is an issue worth watching closely…as the folks who argued that transparency was the antidote to all that campaign cash post Citizens United change their tune abruptly and now argue for donor secrecy:

Idaho’s Secretary of State wants a court to order a group campaigning for Idaho’s ballot referenda to reveal its donors.

Education Voters of Idaho gave more than $200,000 to another, affiliated group for ads supporting propositions 1, 2, and 3. Those ask voters if they want to keep Idaho’s Students Come First education laws. Education Voters refused an ultimatum from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to reveal its donors. Ysursa maintains Idaho’s Sunshine Law says Education Voters has to disclose. Education Voters insists the First Amendment and the Supreme Court decision Citizens United says it doesn’t.

Anthony Johnstone has some experience with state election law vs. Citizens United. As Montana’s state solicitor he worked on acase that went to the Supreme Court.

“Citizens United says in general, disclosure by political committees including disclosure of their funding sources, does not violate the First Amendment,” Johnstone says. “States have the power to require organizations that spend money in political campaigns to tell the voters where their money comes from.”

Enhanced by Zemanta

Watch Heather Brooke’s TED Talk on the Parliament FOI Story…

OK, full disclosure: I am HUGE fan of Heather, having chatted with her often through the years about FOI stuff, so I HAD to pass this along!

If this doesn’t get you pumped up about the power of FOI to change the world, I don’t know what will! And best of all, you can then read an excerpt from her new book, The Revolution Will Be Digitised…

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

In Arizona, Exemptions du jour…

Looks like Arizona’s AG thinks he can redact stuff from public records that is unauthorized by any legal exemption in state law…

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office redacted embarrassing information in a release of hundreds of documents from an internal probe over suspected media leaks.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports (http://bit.ly/QwRnaY) that censored material included rumors of sexual affairs between Attorney General Tom Horne and a subordinate, questions about a key ally’s conduct at work and disparaging comments about the ally, who is entangled with him in alleged campaign finance violations.

Horne’s office in August released investigator Margaret Hinchey’s case file into the suspected leaks. The file included memos outlining Hinchey’s interviews with eight Attorney General’s Office employees.

Those memos were heavily censored, with large chunks of text blotted out. But when the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office released documents from a joint investigation with the FBI into alleged campaign violations by Horne and ally Kathleen Winn, the file included the memos in their entirety.

Attorneys who specialize in First Amendment issues say there are several reasons why a government agency can withhold information from public records. However, attorneys say the fact that something is potentially embarrassing to a public official isn’t one of them.

Solicitor General David Cole responded that the redactions were based on a 1984 Arizona Supreme Court ruling stating that information can be withheld on grounds of privacy, confidentiality or the best interests of the state.

“In responding to public records requests, it is the policy of this office to redact information that is known to be defamatory and false. It is also the policy of this office to redact extraneous gossip, innuendo, rumors, and hurtful remarks that have nothing to do with the legitimate functions of the agency and that can cause damage to individuals and the agency. Our practices comport with Arizona law,” Cole said in an email to the Capitol Times.

Wow. This is quite the admission. So the AG just crafts exemptions as he goes along? I hope this is not the end of this sordid tale.

Enhanced by Zemanta

L.A. Times Sues Over Access to Teacher Ratings

Had a feeling this was coming, but hey, it sure is good to see a newspaper litigating a FOI case:

The Times has sued the Los Angeles Unified School District to obtain its teacher ratings that are calculated using students’ standardized test scores.

The nation’s second-largest school district calculated confidential “Academic Growth Over Time” ratings for about 12,000 math and English teachers two years ago. Last year, the district issued new ratings to about 14,000 instructors that were also viewed by their principals.

The scores are based on an analysis of a student’s performance on several years of standardized tests and estimate a teacher’s role in raising or lowering student achievement.

The Times filed a California Public Records Act request for the scores and teacher names shortly after they were released, but district officials have declined to release teacher names, saying it could be an invasion of privacy.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Boy Scout “Perversion Files” A Study In The Dangers Of Secrecy

A former student, Winston Ross, weighs in on the once-secret files

Just-released “perversion files” of sexual abuse allegations against former leaders of the Boy Scouts of America offer a horrifying and extraordinary look inside 20 years of possible misconduct inside one of the country’s most revered youth institutions.

The files, which include 14,500 pages of abuse reports, were released onlineby Portland, Ore., attorney Kelly Clark, who has represented some of the accusers in lawsuits against the Scouts. The allegations range from indecent exposure to “suspected immoral relations with juveniles.” Most of the 1,200 leaders and volunteers who are named in the files were booted and remained out of the Scouts after their placement in an “Ineligible Volunteer” list, said Clark. Others slipped back in, he said at a press conference on Thursday, just before releasing the files on his website.

Enhanced by Zemanta

FBI To Pay San Fran Journo $470,000

This story makes me so happy for so many reasons. First because I once chatted with Rosenfeld and found him delightful, the epitome of a hard-working scrappy journalist and FOI warrior. Second, because the FBI had its arse handed to it on legal grounds. And finally, because it sends a strong signal to stonewalling politicos everywhere…

 

A federal judge this week ordered the FBI to pay a San Francisco journalist almost half a million dollars for withholding records he requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Seth Rosenfeld, a former reporter at The Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, won $470,459 in attorneys’ fees for two lawsuits he filed – one in 1990 and another in 2007 – while researching the 1960s protest movement in Berkeley.

The lawsuits were two of five he filed against the FBI and the Justice Department starting in 1985. He requested a variety of records pertaining to the FBI’s covert operations at UC Berkeley and its secret relationship with former President Ronald Reagan.

Rosenfeld used the information he received from the FBI in articles for The Chronicle and the Examiner, as well as in his book “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power,” which was released in August.

Rosenfeld said the FBI had failed to turn over all of the documents he requested, and that it wasn’t until he engaged them in a series of legal battles that the agency released thousands of pages…

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/FBI-must-pay-S-F-journalist-470-000-3965054.php#ixzz29uLznWEu

Enhanced by Zemanta

Student Press Law Center Urges Schools to Take on FERPA…

To shed light on public records being held secret by many U.S. colleges, the Student Press Law Center is urging students everywhere to flood their schools with requests to see their own education records.

The goal of the campaign is to show what the center’s director says is hypocrisy by colleges in their application of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Frank LoMonte says they are hiding non-academic records from the public but not including them in students’ academic files.

He suspects students won’t receive much more than their academic transcripts and financial-aid information.

But they should receive much more based on how many colleges and universities use the term education records to shield everything from athletic scandals, sexual-abuse complaints, emails between high-ranking administrators and even parking tickets.

In the name of student privacy, schools, including Ohio State University, have shielded emails, rosters, airplane manifests, NCAA reports, security-video tapes and even newspaper clippings, to name a few.

The Student Press Law Center says it’s time to fully expose the flaws of FERPA.

“We just got to the point where we couldn’t sit back and wait,” LoMonte said.

The intent of the 38-year-old law was clear: protect academic records from public disclosure and give students the right to inspect records that schools keep about them. The author of the law reiterated that point in a Dispatchinterview in 2008.

But the law has since become a shield for schools to hide everything from NCAA rules violations to rape.

Student Press Law Center

Student Press Law Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The campaign, called Let’s Break FERPA, which is detailed at http://www.splc.org/breakferpa.html, asks college students to request and review their records, then report their findings to LoMonte.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Great Records-Rich Story on a Tennessee Property Tax Soak

Memphis Commercial Appeal reporters Marc Perrusquia and Grant Smith (a former student!) just published a series that peels away the curtain to reveal a law originally intended to keep farmers from losing their farmland turned in to a cash cow for rich landowners.

From the first story:

An investigation by The Commercial Appeal and its sister publication, the Knoxville New-Sentinel, found Lightman and many other savvy property owners across Tennessee are reaping dramatic tax savings — often paying pennies on the dollar — because a 1976 law to prevent farmers from being taxed off their land is full of loopholes and timidly enforced by many of the state’s 95 assessors.The newspaper found more than half of the land in Tennessee — nearly 15 million acres — is enrolled in the program protecting farmland, the vast majority in rural counties where agriculture is the dominant industry. Yet, in urban areas the tax rolls evidence significant abuse — from wealthy estate owners living in mansions on huge tracts to real estate developers escaping much of their annual tax bills by declaring a woods a timber preserve, a manicured lawn a pasture, a future subdivision a farm. And, by all accounts, it’s legal.

It’s a great read, and without access to records, it’s not possible.

The Commercial Appeal

The Commercial Appeal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enhanced by Zemanta
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 433 other followers