Articles about "FOIA"

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Public Records Geek will engage in tug-of-war, when necessary

In her first newspaper job with The Frederick News-Post in Frederick, Md., Kelly Hinchcliffe got a call that the school district called a news conference. Why? she asked many times, but no one explained. So when Hinchcliffe showed up and saw a stack of press releases on the table, she grabbed one and sat down. A public information officer rushed over and said she couldn't have the release until after the press conference. "I said, well, it becomes a public record when it's created, not when you say you want to hand it to me," Hinchcliffe told the woman. A tug-of-war over that press release followed, "and I'm telling her, the public records law says..." Hinchcliffe said in a phone interview with Poynter. (more...)

Obama administration denied, censored more FOIA requests in 2013 than it approved

Associated Press | National Security Archive
The Obama Administration cited national security when withholding information from FOIA requests more than 8,000 times in 2013, the Associated Press reports. That's a "57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama's first year, when it cited that reason 3,658 times," Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum write.

The overall number of requests to which the government replied was up 2 percent, but government figures show "the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records," they write. Sometimes the government told AP it just couldn't find information:
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, whose top official has testified to Congress repeatedly about NSA surveillance programs disclosed by contractor Edward Snowden, told the AP it couldn't find any records or emails in its offices asking other federal agencies to be on the lookout for journalists to whom Snowden provided classified materials. British intelligence authorities had detained one reporter's partner for nine hours at Heathrow airport and questioned him under terrorism laws. DNI James Clapper has at least twice publicly described the reporters as "accomplices" to Snowden, who is charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and faces up to 30 years in prison.
Attorney General Eric Holder "strongly" encouraged federal agencies "to make discretionary disclosures of information." And yet the U.S. Department of Justice hasn't updated its FOIA guidelines since 2003, George Washington University's National Security Archive found in an audit.

The justice department has plenty of company in adopting a "glacial" approach to FOIA regulations: "Nearly half (50 out of 101) of all federal agencies have still not updated their Freedom of Information Act regulations to comply with Congress's 2007 FOIA amendments, and even more agencies (55 of 101) have FOIA regulations that predate and ignore President Obama's and Attorney General Holder's 2009 guidance for a "presumption of disclosure," according to the new National Security Archive FOIA Audit released today to mark Sunshine Week," its most recent report says.
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How to use FOIA laws to find stories, deepen sourcing

To mark Sunshine Week, March 16-22, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explains how journalists can use information access laws to develop stories in the public interest. This post is written by Emily Grannis, the Jack Nelson Read more


Reporter sues Florida court clerk over FOIA fees

Naples City Desk
Gina Edwards filed suit against Dwight Brock, the clerk of the Circuit Court of Collier County, Fla., because his office attempted to charge her $556 to fill a public records request.

Edwards' previous requests were filled for $1 per CD containing electronic records. But "Brock imposed a $1 per page fee for the non-court and non-official records on Naples City Desk on Feb. 14, following the news organization’s press coverage critical of Brock’s Office published on Feb. 11," City Desk's account of the suit filing says.

In her suit, Edwards says the files she requested are subject to Florida's public records law and that Brock can charge only the “actual cost of duplication.” The records she sought were electronic.

Edwards launched in 2010 and hosts Naples City Desk there.

Last year the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed suit against Westland, Mich., claiming its fees were exorbitant. The city later lowered its fee scale.

FOIA lessons from Gawker Editor John Cook

Last January, Ann Coulter expressed her anger about The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal-News’ gun-permit map, which it assembled from public records. “I want them for Manhattan!” Coulter told Sean Hannity. “I want to know how many rich liberals … Read more

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Map of U.S. mugshot laws shows Justin Bieber should have partied in Seattle

Justin Bieber's mugshot is everywhere because Florida public records laws allow the release of such records. On Thursday, Poynter wrote about the Miami Beach Police Department's social media strategy, which ensured that Bieber's now-famous picture was quickly available to any news organization that wanted it. But how easy would it be to get Bieber's mugshot had he had a similar evening in other U.S. states? (Memo to JB: Seattle has a lot to offer.)   To make this map, we used information from reports from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (including this downloadable 2008 PDF) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. But laws about public records don't always reflect how they're put into practice, so if you're a journalist who has tried to access mugshots, please tell us how it went. We'll update the map based on your comments. Related: Mug-shot websites move beyond journalism to mainstream profiteers (Poynter) | Mugged by a Mug Shot Online (The New York Times) | For mugshots, privacy v. public interest (CJR) Related training: Poynter's NewsU also has a free, self-guided course on FOIA. When this story posted on Friday, we asked you to tell us how the open records laws are working in your state. Thanks to those responses, we moved Kansas from the "no" column to the "maybe" column. You can see the comments below to find out why. And here's what we've heard so far on Facebook. Steve Fedoriska said "In Washington we also don't get complete addresses, they only give us a block number and the street." Retha Colclasure Mattern told us "The open records laws are great in North Dakota and releasing report info and mug shots is routine for most of the larger departments. Some of the jails even post them online as soon as they're taken. Smaller, rural departments were harder to work with because they weren't as aware of huge law or how it applied to them. We would get a lot of 'I can't release that, only the sheriff can and he's gone until tomorrow.'"
Anne Alzapiedi

Whether to publish Newtown 911 tapes: A good question but not the best one

Even before Newtown, Conn., released recordings Wednesday of 911 calls made during last year's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, news organizations were wringing their hands admirably. MSNBC decided it would not broadcast them. As did NBC, whose president, Deborah Turness, told The New York Times "I listened to the tapes. I can’t see any editorial imperative.” (more...)

Minneapolis police find ‘issues’ with providing crime stats in data-friendly format

MinnPost | Minneapolis City Pages
Last month, MinnPost released an interactive application that shows Minneapolis' monthly crime data. The reason the publication chose Minneapolis as opposed to St. Paul? Its richer data.

Minneapolis released its data in a "structured format," i.e. Excel spreadsheets including location data that Minnpost could pull into its application (the process was not without issues, MinnPost's Kaeti Hinck and Alan Palazzolo write in a post explaining how they built the app).

But when it came time for the department to release its August data, the Minneapolis Police Department announced that "Do to issues with the Excel formats we will no longer be posting them." It released August's data via the far-less-vacuumable format of PDF. (more...)
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MuckRock cofounder plans to appeal NSA’s response to his FOIA request

Michael Morisy didn't get the answer he was looking for after making a Freedom of Information Act request from the National Security Agency. Hoping to find out more about the NSA's Utah Data Center, Morisy made the FOIA request as a journalist from MuckRock, a public records request service he cofounded.

The NSA referred to Morisy as a non-media requester, which results in increased fees. Morisy says NSA's response is a blow against transparency and plans on appealing.

"My entire career has been in journalism. I have written thousands of articles on topics ranging from national security to wasteful spending for publications ranging from the New York Daily News to the Boston Globe, my current employer," he said via email, noting that several media outlets have written about MuckRock and referred to it as a news site. "It's a little puzzling that the NSA couldn't take the time to either independently verify that if they didn't want to take my word on it." (more...)

Government declines to name Beyoncé in FOIA request

Bloomberg | Richmond Times-Dispatch | SCOTUSblog | Los Angeles Times | MuckRock
“This is like the epitome of the really small-stakes story that...does not fundamentally change anything ever,” Washingtonian editor Garrett M. Graff told Poynter in January, about the magazine's thwarted scoop that Beyoncé had lip-synced the National Anthem at President Obama's swearing-in ceremony.

Not so fast, Graff! Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio writes that a FOIA request for Marine Corps "documents and e-mails generated between Jan. 22 and 23" met with a (B)(6): An exemption that 'prohibits disclosure of personal information when an individual’s privacy interest outweighs any public interest.'" Bloomberg got 172 pages in return, Capaccio writes, not one of which mentioned the singer. Even Bloomberg's request for the documents was returned with Beyonce's name replaced by "(B)(6)."

(B)(6) sings the National Anthem on Jan. 21, 2013 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Reason's Mike Riggs wrote last year about the Obama administration's crummy record on FOIA requests.

FOIA requests took another hit Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled Virginia can continue to deny Freedom of Information Act requests to out-of-state residents. Virginia is one of eight states with such restrictions; the others are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee. (more...)