Transparency Watch

Senator puts hold on widely supported FOIA bill

A bill designed to improve the way the federal government handles an increasing load of FOIA requests – a bill that had gained bipartisan support – could be dying after a senator blocked the legislation.

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 would "create a pathway for the federal government to modernize the administration of FOIA" and "codify the 'presumption of openness' into law," among other changes detailed in a post by Alexander Howard on PBS’ MediaShift.

Retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia on Thursday placed a hold on the bill. He released a short statement on his decision Friday, saying that ...

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University of Oklahoma releases parking tickets after student newspaper joins suit

A decision by the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma to join its staffer’s lawsuit against the school caused officials to reverse course on their original decision to withhold parking ticket citations.

OU Daily staff member Joey Stipek had filed the suit in May 2013 after his open records requests for parking tickets was denied on the grounds that the citations were protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

Last week, the Daily published an editorial backing Stipek and declaring that the newspaper is joining the lawsuit. OU President David Boren soon after issued ...

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Ferguson no-fly zone aimed at media

The no-fly zone in place during August’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, was enacted to keep the media from shooting overhead footage from helicopters, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The AP got its hands on audio recordings of conversations between the Federal Aviation Administration and local police officials. In the recordings, local authorities admit that the no-fly zone, billed as a measure to ensure the public’s safety, was in fact aimed at boxing out news media.

Police have claimed the 37 square miles of space was restricted in response to shots fired at a police helicopter ...

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New York newspaper asks judge to force release of license plate data

The Democrat & Chronicle is fighting a county’s denial to provide license plate information about seven newspaper employees and a couple government-owned vehicles, the paper reports.

The Rochester, New York-based paper has reported that Monroe County is indiscriminately amassing license-plate information from high-speed cameras. During the summer, a reporter filed a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain the records about his own license plate and that of six colleagues and two government vehicles.

County officials denied the request because, they said, a release of the data could violate personal privacy or interfere with a law enforcement investigation. The paper ...

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Judge lifts court order against Ala. newspaper

An Alabama judge has lifted a temporary restraining order banning the Montgomery Advertiser from publishing public documents it obtained from a gas company.

The newspaper had obtained, through an open records request to the state’s Public Service Commission, a copy of Alabama Gas Corp.’s Integrity Management Plan, which contained information about the age and condition of gas pipes in communities such as Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma.

Alagasco argued that publishing the location of the pipes raised the risk for terrorism. Judge Robert Vance originally agreed but, in lifting his restraining order, wrote that “while such possibilities might exist ...

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Judge blocks Alabama newspaper from printing information obtained through open records request

A state court judge has temporarily blocked the Montgomery Advertiser from publishing information about a utility company’s plan for gas line safety, information obtained through an open records request.

Alagasco says the Distribution Integrity Management Plan, released to the newspaper by the Alabama Public Service Commission, contains proprietary and safety-related information that could jeopardize public safety, according to the Associated Press.

The Advertiser says the court ruling is a case of unconstitutional prior restraint. The Gannett-owned paper asked for the plan as part of an extensive pipe safety project by USA TODAY.

A hearing will take place Monday to ...

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Mississippi town could make text messages readily available

A town in Mississippi could soon become the first in the state to archive and make available the text messages of public officials, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. The pending policy comes in response to a Mississippi Ethic Commission ruling against Tupelo, after the city had denied the Daily Journal text messages between the mayor and another city official.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History laws already require that cities hold on to text messages. As local government records, the texts should be open to the public. But state officials have openly stated that municipalities don’t ...

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Appeals court upholds denial of FOIA request for detainee's photo

A U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Freedom of Information Act request denial to grant photos and other materials showing Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani to the Center for Constitutional Rights. Al-Qahtani is the alleged would-be 20th hijacker on 9/11 and one of the highest profile U.S. detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The panel ruled that "the federal government sufficiently made its case that the videos and photographs of al-Qahtani should be kept secret under Exemption 1 to FOIA, which provides for the withholding of materials in the interest of ‘national defense or foreign policy,’” according to the ...

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NPR releases militarization data ahead of White House analysis

NPR has released analyzed data that shows every military item shipped to local, state and federal agencies from 2006 through April 23, 2014, as a part of the 1033 program. The items from the Pentagon’s Law Enforcement Support Office include mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) and assault rifles, among other things. NPR’s analysis also identifies the items by their cost to the Department of Defense.

Since unrest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of teenager Michael Brown, opposition has grown against a trend known as "police militarization," which critics say is fueled by programs that put items formerly ...

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Cuomo administration policy allows state to delete emails of government employees

According to WNYC, "New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration — which the governor pledged would be the most transparent in state history — has quietly adopted policies that allow it to purge the emails of tens of thousands of state employees, cutting off a key avenue for understanding and investigating state government."

"Last year, the state started deleting any emails more than 90 days old that users hadn’t specifically saved — a much more aggressive stance than many other states. The policy shift was first reported by the Albany Times Union."