A Column Celebrating a Citizen FOI Warrior….

My pal Joel Campbell does something more columnists should do: highlighting a local FOI warrior. We need to do more of these sorts of stories extolling the virtues of citizen requesters!

Sitting in front of the State Records Committee on Thursday, Dan Schroeder deftly sorts through documents and cites the law as he responds to arcane legal points about why the Utah Attorney General’s Office won’t give him access to a closed investigation into the dubious Envision Ogden scheme.

Without a closer look, a casual observer might assume Schroeder is a trained lawyer with years of experience using Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). In reality, Schroeder is a physics professor at Weber State University whose “hobby” is challenging Ogden politicians. Utah could use more people like Schroeder.

Depending on whom you talk to, Schroeder is either a publicity monger or a watchdog on the steps of Ogden’s City Hall. Schroeder likes to say he investigates things that journalists neither have the time for nor the expertise to understand. He posts much of what he finds on a blog called Weber County Forum.

Schroeder has acquired a record of shining light on the actions of Ogden’s elite.

You Give FOI A Baaaaad Name….

Here’s a riveting story on an outfit that uses public records to demonstrate how exposed you are, then charges you to remove the information….what a racket!

Philip Cabibi, a 31-year-old applications administrator in Utah, sat at his computer one recent Sunday evening and performed one of the compulsive rituals of the Internet Age: the ego search. He typed his name into Google to take a quick survey of how the internet sees him, like a glance in the mirror.

There were two LinkedIn hits, three White Pages listings, a post he made last year to a Meetup forum for Italian-Americans in the Salt Lake City area. Then, coming in 10th place — barely crawling onto the first page of search results — was a disturbing item.

“Philip Cabibi Mugshot,” read the title. The description was “Mug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail.”

When he clicked through, Cabibi was greeted with his mug shot and booking information from his 2007 drunk-driving arrest in Florida. It’s an incident in Cabibi’s life that he isn’t proud of, and one that he didn’t expect to find prominently listed in his search results four years later, for all the world to see.

The website was florida.arrests.org, a privately run enterprise that siphons booking photos out of county-sheriff databases throughout the Sunshine State, and posts them where Google’s web crawlers can see them for the first time. Desperate to get off the site, Cabibi quickly found an apparent ally: RemoveSlander.com. “You are not a criminal,” the website said reassuringly. “End this humiliating ordeal … Bail out of Google. We can delete the mug-shot photo.”

Cabibi paid RemoveSlander $399 by credit card, and within a day, the site had come through. His mug shot was gone from florida.arrests.org, and his Google results were clean.

DeMint Files FOIA Request Over NLRB’s Boeing Suit…

From a story in The Hill:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an effort to “bring transparency” to what DeMint says was a partisan decision by the board to sue Boeing.

“The public facts surrounding the complaint raise serious questions about the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act upon which it is based, to say nothing of the troubling appearance of partisan, special interest politics at its heart,” DeMint wrote in his June 6 letter.

The NLRB argues the suit is warranted because Boeing’s 2009 decision to move a production plant to South Carolina amounts to illegal retaliation against striking workers in Washington State. But Republicans charge that the suit is an open attack against right-to-work states like South Carolina on behalf of unions.

DeMint is looking for evidence that the suit was a result of coordination between the NLRB and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and believes he has found it.

A copy of the request can be found here.

A Great Look at FOIA Responsiveness, Or Lack Thereof…

A great idea by The Hill:

Government responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests vary widely, with some federal agencies refusing to release data that others provide in a timely fashion, according to an analysis by The Hill.

More than six months ago, The Hill filed FOIA requests for over 70 federal agencies’ FOIA logs.

The Hill sought the names of people who requested information, their affiliations and the subject of each FOIA request. While many departments and agencies provided all of the requested data, there was no consistent standard of transparency across the executive branch.

Some executive agencies sent FOIA logs with the requesters’ names, but without their affiliations. Other logs were handwritten. A few agencies complied with The Hill’s request in days, but most took months.

The agencies and departments that were the most responsive and thorough included the Department of Transportation, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Defense Contract Management Agency.

Among the worst were the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Farm Credit Administration (FCA).

Grab some 50-year-old popcorn and Milk Duds…

A CIA-produced documentary about a secret mission in China, never aired outside the agency’s headquarters, is coming to the Internet.

The agency plans a public release of the film about two CIA officers captured during a secret mission in 1952 and held for years.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the film under the Freedom of Information Act.

The hourlong film, “Extraordinary Fidelity,” blends documentary footage and re-enactments to tell the story of the officers shot down trying to recover a spy working for the CIA in the Manchuria region of northeastern China.

The two pilots of the plane died, but the CIA officers — Richard G. Fecteau of Lynn, Mass., and John T. Downey of New Britain, Conn. — were eventually freed in 1971 and 1973, respectively.

The film is the first CIA movie produced for internal audiences that has been released to the public. The CIA made it available nearly one year after the AP filed a FOIA request for a copy. The agency still has not said how much it cost or what director Paul Wimmer was paid. The agency said it is continuing to process this part of the request.

The CIA says it plans to upload the video to its YouTube channel on the web.

A big theme of the film is the behind-the-scenes efforts by CIA officials in Washington, throughout the men’s imprisonment, to keep their financial affairs in order and provide assistance to their families.

It features re-enactments of important scenes, including the ambush and the men’s harsh interrogations at the hands of the Chinese. Some portions were filmed at a former insane asylum in Petersburg, Va.; Fecteau and Downey themselves talk at length about their imprisonment.

The film was produced by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence and first shown almost a year ago at CIA headquarters.

Keeping Austin Weird…

Rainbow cup

Image by Näystin via Flickr

From a great NYT profile on Austin-based anarchist (can an anarchist really have a base?) Scott Crow…

Blogged here by Reason:

Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.

It’s interesting reading…weird, even.

Speaking of weird, a poster on one of their blogs in a free-for-all blasting a column I wrote some years ago managed to attack me by means of a false racial assault. It was plenty racist, but directed at a white me.

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A Gem For Your Conspiracy Theorist…

Arguing that the CIA has no right to withhold records that are more than 30 years old, a watchdog group filed a motion this week seeking a federal court to compel the spy agency to reveal what it knows about the conservative Catholic group that is the stuff of legend.

Public Citizen is working on behalf of Harry Cason, a Ph.D. student at the City University of New York who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the CIA in 2009 for research he was doing on the U.S. role in Spain’s Franco regime, where Opus Dei allegedly played some part.

But Cason decided to take the CIA to court in January after the agency partially denied his request by releasing more than 200 pages of records but refusing to confirm or deny the existence of other records.

The agency argued that acknowledging the existence of these records would tip the CIA’s hand on whether it has information about a covert operation or a confidential source — information that is not covered under FOIA.

But Public Citizen contended in the motion filed Monday that revealing whether the CIA possesses records which are between 31 and 64 years old would not compromise national security.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/01/consumer-group-helps-student-suing-cia-opus-dei-records/#ixzz1O5FLQ0fa