Exemption 10

No, government is not too open

Posted: March 13, 2016 | Tags: Sunshine Week, Transparency


Photo by Jeff Watts

Charles Lewis

Executive Editor Charles Lewis debated Stanford Professor Bruce Cain on March 15 at the University of Missouri about whether there is too much transparency — or not enough — in the federal government.

The event was digitally recorded and sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs.

Prior to the debate Lewis wrote the following:

The United States has a noisy and utterly imperfect representational democracy, disorderly and dysfunctional in many ways. But as Founding Father James Madison famously observed, “A popular Government, without popular information, or ...

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iFOIA's new site features tracking

Posted: Nov. 6, 2013 | Tags: FOIA

iFOIA, a free online system to create, send and track federal and state records requests, is now up and running. After nearly a year of project development, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) offered iFOIA to Bloomberg News and NPR for beta testing. Since its official release at the Online News Association Conference on Oct. 17, major newsrooms, including The Washington Post, have hosted representatives from the Reporters Committee for tutorials on how this resource can be used effectively by journalists. Emily Grannis from the Reporters Committee stopped by the Workshop today to give our staff an ...

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Privacy vs. the public's right to know

Posted: July 8, 2013 | Tags: FOIA

In an age of shrinking personal privacy, the federal government is relying more than ever on privacy concerns to deny access to government records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Private information found in personnel, medical or similiar files is one of nine exemptions that agencies can cite to deny or redact access to records. Private information found in law enforcement files is another. Yet the government must show that releasing the information would result in an “unwarranted” invasion of privacy. The Workshop’s analysis of annual FOIA reports show that federal agencies invoked one of the two privacy ...

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Freedom of Information Act: Requests and denials climb, backlog slows

Posted: June 20, 2013 | Tags: FOIA

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that government agency records are open to the public. Access can provide insight into such things as how taxpayer money is spent and what correspondence reveals about relationships between Congress and government agencies or between the agencies and private parties. However, this flow of information can be limited by nine exemptions, including those for national security, privacy and law enforcement reasons.

The data below show FOIA activity by year based on the reporting by 13 federal agencies, with the exception of requests to Veterans Affairs and the Health and Human Services departments ...

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Agencies lag in filing FOIA reports

Posted: Feb. 27, 2013 | Tags: FOIA

In baseball, if you bat .333, you're an All-Star. But we’re pretty sure that doesn’t apply to most other endeavors.

Take, for example, the requirement that federal agencies file annual reports detailing how they handled Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The reports, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, were due by Feb. 1. They're supposed to be available on a central Web page hosted by the Justice Department, which oversees all FOIA procedures for the federal government.

Yet here we are, on Feb. 27, nearly a month after the deadline, and only five cabinet ...

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Gun permits stoke debates over privacy, open government

Posted: Feb. 26, 2013 | Tags: open government

Shortly after the tragic massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn., in December, the Westchester, N.Y., Journal News got access to a list of all gun permit owners in Westchester and Rockland counties and made it available on its website.

The publication of the list, which was a public record, provoked an outcry from permit holders who said their privacy had been violated.

Within a few weeks, the New York legislature and governor agreed to a bill making the records off limits to the public for four months. The bill also includes a provision giving permit holders the power ...

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Sunshine Week: A commitment to open government

Posted: March 8, 2012 | Tags: Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week logo

Next week is Sunshine Week, designed to bring attention to the merits and benefits of having an open government. The main sponsors of the week are the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In some ways, it is bittersweet to have such a celebration. On the one hand, it is a great opportunity to expose people to the notion that a free flow of information from the government is vital to a functioning democracy. On the other hand, it seems too bad that we have to remind public officials and ordinary citizens ...

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Suit seeks to force agencies to give FOIA time estimates

Posted: Feb. 21, 2012 | Tags: FOIA, Freedom of Information, New York Times, truth-out.org, Wikileaks

The folks at truth-out.org have filed suit against the FBI, the CIA, the Defense Department and several other federal agencies to force them to give the organization estimated dates for completing Freedom of Information Act requests.

The suit is based on the 2007 amendments to FOIA that required agencies to provide, among other things, “an estimated date on which the agency will complete action” on FOIA requests. Despite the clear statement in the law, some agencies don’t tell requesters when to expect results.

In a blog post explaining the suit, Jason Leopold reports that the FBI has refused ...

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EPA, Commerce take lead in developing "FOIA Portal"

Posted: Feb. 16, 2012 | Tags: FOIA, Freedom of Information, Office of Government Information Services, OGIS, open government

A buzz is growing in the federal Freedom of Information community about a new $1.3 million “FOIA Portal” under development and slated for launch this fall. Thursday we got a chance to look under the hood a bit, as part of a group organized by the Office of Government of Information Services.

The system’s design and development is being led by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commerce Department, and so far those are the only two agencies that have committed to implementing it. OGIS, housed in the National Archives, also is a partner in the portal project ...

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Seven cabinet departments late filing FOIA reports

Posted: Feb. 13, 2012 | Tags: FOIA, Freedom of Information, Justice Department

Well, it’s time to see how federal agencies are doing in terms of filing their annual Freedom of Information Act reports. The reports, covering activity for the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, are supposed to be finished by Feb. 1.

Agencies apparently treat that deadline as seriously as they treat other FOIA deadlines, which is to say, not very. By yesterday afternoon, only eight of 15 Cabinet-level agencies had posted their reports online.

The reports show such things as how many requests the agency received, how many it processed, how the backlog changed, how many requests were ...

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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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