Florida bill would usher breathtaking secrecy into private prison deals…

Prison doors

Image by rytc via Flickr

It never, ever ceases to amaze me how lawmakers can embrace secrecy when farming out prisons to for-profit corporations that have such a well-documented history of abuse, corruption and mismanagement. Could they not just do a little reading about the many problems private prisons have caused in, say, Texas? I mean, heck, a little Google search, people?


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Is the FBI “Blackballing” FOI Requests?

A provocative piece…

Have you ever filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI and received a written response from the agency stating that it could not locate records responsive to your request?

If so, there’s a chance the FBI may have found some documents, but for unknown reasons, the agency’s FOIA analysts determined it was not responsive and “blackballed” the file, crucial information the FBI withholds from a requester when it issues a “no records” response.

The FBI’s practice of “blackballing” files has never been publicly disclosed before. With the exception of one open government expert, a half-dozen others contacted by Truthout said they were unfamiliar with the process of “blackballing” and had never heard of the term.

Trevor Griffey learned about “blackballing” last year when he filed a FOIA/Privacy Act request with the FBI to determine whether Manning Marable, a Columbia University professor who founded the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, sought to obtain the FBI’s files on Malcolm X under FOIA. At the time of his death last April, Marable had just finished writing an exhaustive biography on the late civil rights activist. Griffey filed the FOIA hoping he would receive records to assist him with research he has been conducting related to a long-term civil rights project he has been working on.

In a letter the agency sent in response to his FOIA, the FBI told Griffey that it could not locate “main file records” on Marable responsive to his request. Last November, in response to a FOIA request Truthout filed with the FBI for a wide-range of documents on the Occupy Wall Street, the agency also said it was unable to “identify main file records responsive to [our] FOIA,” despite the fact that internal FBI documents related to the protest movement had already been posted on the Internet. The FBI has been criticized in the past for responding to more than half of the FOIA requests the agency had received by claiming it could not locate responsive files.


Indiana Tries To Put Teeth in The Sunshine Laws

Public employees who intentionally circumvented public meeting and disclosure laws could be subject to fines under legislation reintroduced in the Generally Assembly.

The bills would let a judge fine a person $100 for first offense and $500 for subsequent violations of the Open Door Law or Access to Public Records Act.

The act requires meetings of public agencies to be open and public documents to be made available for copying or inspection except for specific exemptions spelled out in the law.

The bills are receiving support from bipartisan lawmakers and the Hoosier State Press Association. Versions of both bills have been introduced during the past several years but have not made it out of either chamber for reasons unrelated to the bill.


From Miami, a Critical Case on Federal Mug Shots

Theo Karantsalis, a soft-spoken librarian who teaches research classes at Miami Dade College between freelancing for Miami New Times and the Miami Herald, has become an unlikely central character in a hotly contested federal case that has free-speech advocates ready to clash with top D.C. officials.

In a case that has now made its way onto the U.S. Supreme Court’s radar, Karantsalis is challenging a decades-long insistence by the feds that mug shots are not public record. The nine justices are expected to meet in a couple weeks to decide whether to hear Karantsalis’s argument.

“I need this information to be able to tell stories,” Karantsalis says. “This case is just a matter of fairness and transparency.”

Karantsalis’s fight began three years ago in an MDC classroom. He had been stonewalled while trying to obtain a mug shot of Luis Giro, a local fraudster facing federal charges; his students persuaded him to fight for the photos….

FOI Lawsuit Seeks Access to Guantanamo videos

A legal group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on Monday asking that videotapes showing the interrogation of a terror detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be made public.

The suit filed in the Southern District of New York is focused on interrogation techniques used on Mohammed al-Qahtani, a man U.S. authorities have said was intended to be the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 terror attacks.

“From 2002 through 2003, Mr. al-Qahtani was the victim of a deliberate and calculated interrogation strategy involving the repeated use of torture and other profoundly cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” according to the lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The lawsuit says al-Qahtani was subjected to severe sleep deprivation, isolation, 20-hour interrogations, severe temperatures and forced nudity. The suit says al-Qahtani also experienced “religious, sexual, and moral humiliation” including instances in which female interrogators straddled him.

Because a blog on FOI need some Wu-Tang Clan…

And they say FOI has no street cred?

Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard was “heavily involved” in “murder, car-jackings … and the sale of drugs [and] illegal guns”, according to a newly released FBI report. The FBI’s 93-page file on ODB, revealed in a Freedom of Information request, connects the rapper with a litany of serious crimes in the late 80s and 90s. 

The documents were obtained by Rich Jones of the Gun.io blog, who filed a formal request for information on Russell Tyrone Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2004. It took the FBI less than a week to respond with its file, consisting of redacted police reports, court proceedings and news clippings. All have been posted online.

According to these papers, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was arrested more than 15 times on charges that ranged from resisting arrest to injuring a child, as well as assault, the attempted murder of a police officer, refusing to pay child support and the illegal possession of body armour. It connects him with the Bloods gang and at least two murders, but also describes occasions that ODB was robbed at gunpoint in his own home. “There was an indication that the [thieves] were current or former [music] industry insiders who had banded together to commit the robberies,” an officer explained.

Furthermore, Wu-Tang Clan are portrayed as a criminal organisation, co-ordinating drug-deals and homicides – sometimes with musical rewards. “Once individuals have proved themselves as good and loyal members,” officers claimed, “they are offered record contracts to recordRap type music.” In 2000, Wu-Tang Clan were apparently under investigation by NYPD’s violent crimes/gangs squad, the US Attorney’s office, a Staten Island detectives unit and the Richmond county district attorney.


All the FOI links you ever wanted, in one convenient place!


A fine example of why secret settlements are always a bad idea…

See, here in Wayne County, Mich., they swept this little mess under the rug several years ago:

A former Wayne County mental health director — fired after claiming County Executive Robert Ficano improperly dumped political appointees on her payroll — could collect an extra $1 million in pension benefits under a confidential settlement made in 2004 and revealed Friday.

The county was forced to unseal the details because of a labor activist’s lawsuit.

County officials said they can’t calculate the value of the deal given to Patricia Kukula Chylinski because it’s a pension.

“We won’t know that until she dies,” said Ficano spokeswoman Brooke Blackwell.

But former Auditor General Brendan Dunleavy said if she has a typical lifespan, the deal is worth just less than $1 million.

So, any way you want to slice this, the county cuts a deal — in secret — sweetening the pension of an employee fired for speaking up about what she perceived as an injustice. Would the same deal have been cut, had it been made public? I’m doubtful. Just another cost of secrecy….


Back, After a Long Hiatus

Regular followers of the blog probably have given up….but after academic and writing duties consumer me last term, I am back! I’ll try to be dutiful about posting new FOI items. And I apologize for the lack of posts in the past month or so….