Archives for March, 2011

FOIA case study: Similar requests produce different responses

Posted: March 24, 2011 | Tags: airline maintenance

Seldom is there such a moment of informational bliss in journalist’s job as when a thick, government envelope arrives packed with the results from a long-awaited Freedom of Information Act request.

And rarely is there a more frustrating letdown than a thin FOIA rejection envelope that leaves you utterly perplexed.

I vividly recall the latter such emotion last May when a thin letter arrived from the Federal Aviation Administration. We were producing a FRONTLINE documentary called Flying Cheaper about where the major airlines such as Delta Air Lines, US Airways and United Airlines take their planes to be maintained ...

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Supreme Court again rules in favor of openness

Posted: March 21, 2011 | Tags: Bloomberg News, Elena Kaga, Federal Reserve, FOIA, Freedom of Information, John Roberts, Supreme Court

For the third time in a month the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of letting the public have access to important government documents.

In the latest case Monday, the justices refused to hear a banking group’s appeal to keep secret the identities of banks that got trillions of dollars in loans from the Federal Reserve Bank during the financial crisis.

Bloomberg News and Fox News, in separate cases, had sued the Fed for details about the loans in 2008. A court ruled in 2009 that the documents should be released.

The Fed and the Clearing House Association appealed ...

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House hearing focuses on laws that keep information secret

Posted: March 18, 2011 | Tags: Collaboration on Government Secrecy, Daniel Metcalfe, Exemption 3, FOIA, Freedom of Information, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica, Rick Blum, Sunshine in Government Initiative

It was a busy week on the Freedom of Information front in Washington, as the annual observance of Sunshine Week unfolded, with hearings in the House and the Senate, as well as programs at the Newseum and elsewhere. We reported earlier on the Senate hearing.

Witnesses at the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform hearing focused on an aspect of FOIA that has become a more pronounced problem in recent years: A proliferation of laws that carve out special interest FOIA exemptions. Exemption 3 of the original FOIA law passed in 1966 permitted agencies to withhold records "specifically exempted ...

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How's government doing on FOIA? Depends on whom you ask

Posted: March 16, 2011 | Tags: FOIA, Freedom of Information, John Podesta, Judicial Watch, Sarah Cohen, Senate Judiciary Committee, Sunshine Week

Someone once said that the two most important words in the English language are: “It depends.”

And at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on the Freedom of Information Act it was clear that how the government is doing on FOIA depends on who is answering the question. (See hearing testimony here.)

“Agencies have made real progress in applying the presumption of openness, improving the efficiency of their FOIA processes, reducing their backlogs of pending FOIA requests, expanding their use of technology, and making more information available proactively,” Melanie Pustay, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy ...

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FOIA week in review: Supreme Court rejects corporate privacy claim

Posted: March 4, 2011 | Tags: Center for Public Integrity, Charles Grassley, FOIA, Freedom of Information, Medicare, open government, privacy, Ron Wyden, AT&T, Utah

It has been a pretty good week for those interested in Freedom of Information and open government issues.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in a FOIA case that corporations don’t have “personal privacy” rights. On the surface, that hardly seems shocking.

But there had been concern the court would side with corporations, given last year’s Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to spend their own money on political campaigns, citing First Amendment reasons and, to some extent, equating corporations with individuals.

As it turned out, there was little need to worry in the AT&T privacy case ...

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Introducing Exemption 10: How FOIA works

Posted: March 3, 2011 | Tags: FOIA, Freedom of Information, open government

The Investigative Reporting Workshop is launching “Exemption 10,” a new blog devoted to covering issues relating to freedom of information and open government. Our primary focus will be on FOIA at the federal level.

First, let’s explain the name, “Exemption10.” The Freedom of Information Act, first passed in 1966, contains nine exemptions that give agencies the power to withhold information. But 45 years of experience show that it often seems there is an unwritten 10th exemption, which can be broadly characterized as, “We don’t want to give it to you.”

As the name might imply, we are going ...

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Recent Posts

No, government is not too open

March 13-19 was Sunshine Week — a nationwide celebration of access to public information. Across the country, the week was marked by panel discussions, workshops and other events about using and understanding the latest developments in freedom-of-information resources. One of those was an event at the University of Missouri in which Charles Lewis, the Workshop's executive editor, argued that government has not become too transparent.

iFOIA's new site features tracking

Since 1996 the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has offered a free letter-generating service to provide users with the correct language and structure for FOIA requests. Over the past year the committee looked for ways to expand this tool to better serve reporters. In recognition of the fact that a single investigation can require hundreds of FOIA requests, they sought to make it easier for journalists to track and organize records requests.

“Reporters are always trying to remember where they’ve submitted requests, how much time has passed since they made the request and who they need to follow up with,” said Emily Grannis of the new ifOIA website.

Privacy vs. the public's right to know

Scholars and watchdog groups say the federal government — and the Supreme Court — have slowly expanded privacy rights beyond the guidelines established in FOIA. Supreme Court decisions in five FOIA cases shed light on how the government came to value privacy interests over the public’s right to know.

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