Cool little FOI quiz…

This is a great little quiz that the non-profit news site The St. Louis Beacon worked with me and a St. Louis attorney to create….other states should replicate this!

 

 

Gun permit issues pop up in North Carolina…

The battle over gun permit data in New York spreads to another state:

A Gaston County commissioner wants to put personal information contained in gun permits – now part of the public record – out of public view.

At Thursday night’s board of commissioners’ work session, vice chairman Tracy Philbeck introduced a measure asking the county’s legislators to change the current law.

Sheriffs’ offices in North Carolina are required to maintain records of handgun purchases issued by their offices, and those records include information such as names, addresses and ages. The public has access to this information, and Philbeck wants that stopped.

“In light of recent events, the media has taken advantage of the public records law and abused it,” he said, referring to news reports that followed incidents such as last month’s shooting at a Connecticut school. “This information should not be used to criminalize or defame gun owners.”

As an example of abuse he mentioned Raleigh-based WRAL-TV’s story last summer about concealed-carry permit holders. He said the story included an online database of public information that allowed people to search street names in the station’s 22-county viewing area for permit holders.

Philbeck believes that people who go through the application process and legally obtain a gun “should expect some form of privacy.”

He wants county commissioners to support legislation that would exempt handgun purchase permits and concealed-carry permits from sheriffs’ office lists accessible by the public at large.

Philbeck said Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger “is in full support of this action.”

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Navy Times, with a major assist from the Yale FOI Law Clinic, for the win!

Yale’s newish FOI clinic already is demonstrating the potential for such collaborations to make a real difference in FOI litigation:

Navy Times has won an important ruling in its legal challenge to force U.S. Strategic Command to release investigative reports into an allegedly abusive Navy official.

In 2011, William H. McMichael, then a Navy Times staff writer, asked STRATCOM to release an Inspector General report detailing the conduct of Capt. Bill Power, the command’s then-director of logistics, who had been accused of abusive behavior by subordinates.

But each of three Freedom of Information Act requests was denied by STRATCOM officials, who refused to confirm or deny the existence of the records under an exemption to the federal Freedom of Information Act normally applied to state secrets.

Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic took up the fight on Navy Times’ behalf, challenging the Navy’s determination in the U.S. district court for the District of Columbia.

The Yale group argued that the Pentagon’s refusal to acknowledge whether the report existed was a misuse of the cited exemption. They argued the IG report into a senior official’s conduct should be a matter of public record, noting that STRATCOM employees knew of the probe and that Power had even told some of his 49 employees about the report’s conclusions.

The judge sided with Navy Times.

 

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Big FOI win in Wisconsin!

Kudos to my friend Christa Westerberg!

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Star-Times in a public records dispute with Juneau County.

In a 4-3 decision issued Tuesday, the high court let stand a 2011 appeals court ruling that granted the newspaper full access to legal bills issued by a Milwaukee law firm and paid by the county’s insurer.

“Today, the court affirmed the public’s right to information and the presumption in the open records law that the public has a right to government information except in extremely limited circumstances,” said Madison attorney Christa Westerberg, who argued the newspaper’s case.

Matt Meyers, who became general manager of the Star-Times and several other newspapers north of Madison a year after the suit was filed, said he was happy with the decision and appreciative of Westerberg’s work but disappointed that it sometimes takes lawsuits to ensure access to public records.

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NY gun records draw lawsuit by NYT reporters…back in 2010

Gawker moved the story forward yet again, publishing a list of gun permit holders in New York City.

In the Gawker piece, the author writes that the list he got “contains only the names, and not the addresses, of the licensees,” and though he argued that both were supposed to be public information based on Article 400 of the Penal Code, that the “only way to get the associated addresses from the NYPD, as the law requires, would be to take them to court, which no one has apparently done.”

And as this post at capitalnewyork.com helpfully points out, actually someone has.

Though the New York Times hasn’t acknowledged as much in its coverage of the issue, in 2010, three New York Times reporters sued the New York Police Department over what it described as the department’s failure to comply with state law requiring public access to information, including the addresses of gun-permit holders in New York City.

“We’ve become increasingly concerned over the last two years about a growing lack of transparency at the N.Y.P.D.,” David McCraw, a lawyer for the newspaper, said at the time. “Information that was once released is now withheld. Disclosures that could be made quickly are put on hold for months.”

Among the reporters who filed suit was Jo Craven McGinty.

According to the lawsuit, in May of 2010, McGinty filed a Freedom of Information Law request for an electronic copy of the database containing names and addresses of all gun permit holders who live in New York City.

The NYPD gave her the names, too, but refused to give her the accompanying addresses, arguing that doing so might endanger the life or safety of permit-holders.

In court, the police department also argued that the law allowed it to withhold the addresses if it believed that they would be used for fund-raising or commercial purposes.

McGinty went on to submit an affidavit affirming that she did not intend to use the names or addresses for solicitation or fund-raising purposes, nor would she give the information to anyone with that intention.

The judge argued that others could use the published data for those purposes if it were published, which complicated the issue; ultimately, she ruled that the list should be released to the Times, but that some redactions could be allowed:

Inasmuch as the Times could not control the use to which others might put the addresses requested from the NYPD, were the Times to place them on the Internet, Ms. McGinty‘s affidavit, in effect, bars the Times from putting the addresses on line. Accordingly, the Times is entitled to have the residential addresses of gun licensees in searchable electronic form, as already redacted to delete the names and addresses of retired law enforcement officers and several current or former civilian government employees. Petitioners have not opposed such redaction.

The NYPD appealed the verdict, and the case was argued before the appellate division in May, and is awaiting a decision. If another decision comes down against the NYPD, it’s likely to go to the Court of Appeals.

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NY Paper Publishes Database of Handgun Permits…Chaos Ensues

The saga of the Journal News database of gun permits continues to make headlines, so I thought I’d bring a few of the latest to the blog…

A newspaper based in White Plains that drew nationwide anger after publishing the names and addresses of handgun permit holders last month is being guarded by armed security personnel at two of its offices, the publisher said Wednesday.

The increased security comes as the newspaper, The Journal News, has promised to forge ahead with plans to expand its interactive map of permit holders to include a third county in the suburbs of New York City, and local officials there have vowed to block the records’ release.

The armed guards — hired from local private security companies — have been stationed in The Journal News’s headquarters and in a satellite office in West Nyack, N.Y., since last week, said Janet Hasson, the president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group.

“The safety of my staff is my top priority,” Ms. Hasson said in a telephone interview.

The newspaper prompted a national discussion and a torrent of rage online after it published an interactive mapof handgun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland Counties on its Web site last month. The Journal News had gathered the information from public records after the school shooting in nearby Newtown, Conn.

Predictably enough, the response has been histrionic. The county has denied further FOI requests for related records, despite the fact that they are not exempt under New York law.

State lawmakers are making noise about an exemption, though.

Slate weighs in, arguing for continued access. Ken Paulson at the Freedom Forum added a nice look as well.

And some disturbed individual sent the newspaper a package containing a white powdery substance.

Text messages peel back the curtain on key vote: FOI at Work

A nice piece of FOI work, unveiling text messages flying back and forth as power brokers in Orange County, FL shot down a proposed sick pay provision…

New details emerged Wednesday in a WESH 2 News investigation of text messaging by Orange County commissioners during that key vote on a sick pay ballot measure.

The measure was defeated Sept. 11, but only now are some of the messages between elected leaders and the powerful lobbyists who apparently shot down the initiative being released.

The measure would have required businesses with more than 15 workers to offer paid sick time to all employees. The group gathered a petition to put the

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

measure on the November ballot.

The messages show there were ongoing discussions before and during the public hearing on the sick pay referendum.

WESH also provided a nice blow-by-blow account of the text message traffic here.

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