FOIA Friday: Money Mishegoss in Michigan and Other Stories

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Court Orders Obama Justice Department to Justify Some of Its Withholdings on Black Panther Scandal: During the 2008 Presidential elections, several members of the New Black Panther Party were implicated in a voter intimidation scandal. Fast-forward a few years, and independent watchdog group Judicial Watch has requested documents relating to the dismissal of the aforementioned trial. After a period during which the DOJ refused to release said information, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton has now ordered the Obama administration to either release the requested documents or provide acceptable justification relating to their unattainability.

Transit Agency Demands $300 to Reveal CEO’s Salary: It would seem that Michigan state agencies have a habit of overcharging for FOIA request fulfillment. Back in aught-9, the State Police placed a $5.9 million price tag on the information regarding the state’s use of Homeland Security grants from 2002-2009. A few days ago, in Muskegon, MI, the city of Muskegon informed requesters that it would cost $300 to acquire data from the Muskegon Area Transit System on the salary and benefits of the authority’s CEO. This is an age-old anti-FOIA technique at work, one we’ve run into at Muckrock as well: drive away truth-seekers with exorbitant prices.

Romney’s Pitch to S&P Included Tax Hikes: In local news, Slate reports on the results of a FOI request that show how Mitt Romney convinced S&P—yeah, that name may sound a little familiar—to upgrade Massachusetts’ credit rating from AA- to AA. Not at all shockingly, he did so by pointing to tax increases, not—as many politicians claimed as the reason for S&P’s downgrade of the US’s credit rating—spending worries.

FOIA Lawsuit Forces CIA to Release Bay of Pigs Details: Finally, of potential interest to all the historians among us is this tidbit: The CIA is finally releasing the details of the Bay of Pigs operation through FOIA procedures. To follow the release and analysis of the information, check out the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which gets credit for the successful request.


FOIA Friday: This Was a Triumph

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As some of you may have noticed, America didn’t default this past week! So that’s one bit of good news. Of course, we still have to deal with all the factors involved in putting us in this economic situation, but not defaulting’s a good place to start! And since our government gets to keep on operating, we get to keep on making FOI requests. Here are some of the more interesting news tidbits along those lines:

Senate Passes Faster FOIA Bill Again Amid Growing Criticism: Here we go again. After a recent attempt (the fourth, in fact) to pass a Faster FOIA bill failed because of debt ceiling legislation that was tacked on, the Senate has once again passed a Faster FOIA bill (lucky number. . . five?) putting the onus on the House to finally make the bill law. The current model would “establish a panel to look into agency backlogs, analyze the hurdles facing requests and make recommendations to Congress and various government agencies after one year,” which sounds like a good step to me, but many open-government advocates say it’s simply going to create yet another meaningless commission. It may not matter, though, since the House has been the FOIA-bill-killer for a while now.

Court refuses to hold CIA in contempt over video destruction: Man, it’s enough to make you think the CIA might be hiding something, isn’t it? In the latest news in a suit brought by the ACLU against the agency in 2004, the U.S. District Judge presiding refused to hold the CIA in contempt even though the agency allegedly destroyed videos of harsh interrogations of terror suspects. The ACLU has been trying for years to being the CIA to task for their overly-harsh interrogation methods, but now Judge Hellerstein is, other than making the CIA pay the ACLU’s legal fees, letting the agency get away with destroying—and lying about destroying—some of the most solid evidence the ACLU could have brought forward. Never a group to be stopped easily, though, the ACLU is already fighting for the release of more documents that the CIA has up til now kept hidden away.

MariAn Gail Brown: Connecticut Supreme Court slaps down FOI Commission: From the Connecticut Post: Glastonbury native Karen Emerick had become a little suspicious of the Glastonbury Ethics Commission. After filing FOI requests with the group, she was vindicated in her suspicions: the commission was holding secret meeting that citizens were never told about nor given the opportunity to attend. The CT FOI Commission ruled that the Ethics Commission needed to provide full minutes of all private meetings. The commission failed to do so. Thrice more they tried to hide their activities from the public and thrice more Emerick filed complaints. Finally, the FOI Commission ordered the Ethics commission to maintain audio recordings for all closed-door meetings for the next three years. Reasonable for a commission that had shown a complete lack of concern for transparency, right? Well, apparently the CT Supreme Court would disagree, as it ruled that the FOI Commission overstepped its bounds. The Court reversed the order to the questionably-ethical Ethics Commission.

Can FOI requests be submitted on Twitter? Yes, says ICO: In some interesting FOIA news from across the pond, reports that the Information Commissioner’s Office (the independent authority in charge of, among other things, the upholding of FOI laws) sent out a newsletter clarifying a murky issue. Now, apparently, Twitter is a viable method of submitting a FOI request to an agency; as long as your Twitter account has your legal name attached to it, submitting a question to an agency’s official Twitter page counts as submitting a FOI request and, as such, agencies are required to address such a request within 20 business days.