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Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know. March 11-17, 2012
specifically exempted under FOIA, public records presumed to be open to public
In 2007: 21.4 million FOIA requests
major exemptions to prevent disclosure of sensitive/personal info Amendments to FOIA:
1974: lower search and duplication
fees, or fee waivers for research for public interest 1986: standardized fee schedules 1996: Electronic FOI amendments: more later!
agencies, departments and government-controlled corporations of executive branch of federal government (not states)
Department, FCC, FTC, SEC, U.S. Postal Service
to President and
Informal phone call: ask for
FOI officer, make request clearly Written letter, requesting reply within 10 days, by certified mail or fax Appeal to agency head, requesting reply within 20 days File suit in federal court nearest your area if all else fails Be clear about how much you are willing to pay before you order, and find out how much things cost
1. National security: difficult to dispute—release of info might cause harm to national security or foreign policy of the U.S.
All agency must show is appropriate
2. Internal rules and practices: material that might divulge agency’s investigatory/ prosecutorial practices can be withheld 3. Statutory exemptions: fed. statutes exempt classes of info—courts balance statutes to determine if info should be divulged
“High 2” and “Low 2” distinction is no more
Trade secrets: protects food formulas, etc.—info supplied by private firms for regulatory reasons that includes such info exempt from disclosure (includes customer lists, market share information, profit/loss statements)
Reverse FOIA suits: attempts by
Executive privilege: inter- or intraagency memos or letters—predecisional documents not available; post-decisional documents are
companies to get info withheld
Personal privacy: personnel and medical files, disclosure of which would constitute invasion of privacy (medical exams, job evals) 7. Law enforcement investigations: protected, but only to extent that releasing might:
(a) interfere with law enforcement (b) deprive person of fair trial (c) be invasion of personal privacy (d) disclose identity of confidential source or of material in a case (e) disclose guidelines for law
8. Banks: protects fed. agency reports about conditions of banks and financial institutions under federal regulations 9. Oil wells: protects against speculation based on info on maps and other geographical information that must be filed with government
More info is withheld under Exemption 7 than any other exemption!
Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996: not only making info available in electronic format!
Requires agencies to make it easier
for public to identify and access records Facilitates computerization of FOI compliance Reforms timetable and procedures agencies
Amendment to FOIA, signed by Pres. Bush on Dec. 31, 2007 to overcome “Ashcroft memo” that encouraged agencies to lean against disclosure in areas implicating national security Important elements:
Requires an online tracking system
for requesters Creates a gov’t-wide office to arbitrate disputes Establishes penalties for FOIA offices that take longer than allotted response times Clarifies the definition of “news media” status (to be more inclusive of freelancers) Limits search and duplication fees
OK! Many agencies maintain “reading rooms” with public documents so you can get a sense of what kinds of records held by an agency or ideas for research
FBI Vault: http://vault.fbi.gov/ FCC Electronic Reading Room:
http://transition.fcc.gov/foia/e-room.html SEC Electronic Reading Room: http://www.sec.gov/foia/efoiapg.htm Department of Education Reading Room: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/p
of sensitive/personal info – can sometimes result in useless data Glomarization – agency can refuse to confirm or deny existence of a record
New rules may increase the use of
Lengthy delays High fees
On his first day in office, President Obama directed all federal agencies to break down barriers to transparency, participation, and collaboration Open Government Initiative (OGI): May 2009, contains specific orders/deadlines including:
Publish government info
online Improve quality of gov’t info Create and institutionalize a culture of open gov’t Create an enabling policy framework for open gov’t
Gov’t Initiative: http://www.foia.gov/ Free government data: http://www.data.gov/ ProPublica, investigative reporting with heavy use of FOIA requests: http://www.propublica.org/ Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press’ FOIA page:
California Public Records Act: applies to records maintained by state and local government agencies at all levels
Section 6250: “In enacting this chapter,
the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state” Applies to all state governmental agencies (federal agencies are covered by the
Any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of the physical form or characteristic (paper, electronic, etc.) If there is information that is exempt (personal data, for example) agency is required to redact or segregate the exempt information and provide the non-exempt if the task is not onerous
Personnel records Preliminary drafts of final reports Pending litigation (including attorney-client privilege) Deliberative process/executive privilege (documents can be withheld that would hinder the agency’s decision-making if made public) Public interest (a balancing test) Law enforcement records – investigatory and arrest records, incident reports, arrest reports, accident reports, police or peace officer personnel records or citizen complaints (don’t forget that many of these
Make your request for information as clearly and specifically as possible
Cite names, dates, locations or any other
Fees: they must be reasonable Agencies are entitled to 10 working days if there is a question on a document’s exemption (but this 10-day period cannot be used to intentionally delay obviously open records)
info that will help the government worker locate the data you want
To inspect any image, writing or technologically recorded or stored item containing info relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency To be given access to those records at all times during normal business hours and to be given legal justification if records are withheld To receive records without delay To be given justification for denial within 10 days from the date of request (or 14 under unusual circumstances)
Legislative Open Records Act: covers “any writing which contains information relating to the conduct of the people’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by the Legislature” (section 9072(c))
Similar provisions to CPRA Exemptions: preliminary drafts,
personnel files, pending litigation Also includes electronic data files Right to bring action for relief; a court will examine the requested record and determine disclosure
California Constitution amended to:
Provide right of public access to meetings of
government bodies and writings of government officials Provide that statutes and rules furthering public access shall be broadly construed, or narrowly construed if limiting access Require future statutes and rules limiting access to contain findings justifying necessity of those limitations Preserve constitutional rights including rights of privacy, due process, equal protection; expressly preserves existing constitutional and statutory limitations restricting access to certain meetings and records of government bodies and officials, including law enforcement and prosecution records
First Amendment Coalition: http://www.firstamendmentcoalition.org/
Californians Aware: http://www.calaware.org/ Student Press Law Center: http://www.splc.org/ ACLU of Southern California: http://www.aclu-sc.org/
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