Using FOI takes time, requires persistence and can lead to disappointment. But it’s a powerful tool in investigative journalism and reporting on the issues that matter to the millennial and Gen Z generations.
In this highlight clip from our September 2021 FOI Summit, Nabiha Syed, president of The Markup; Lam Thuy Vo, data journalist in residence at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism; Azmat Khan, investigative reporter; and Ava Lubell, local journalism attorney and legal fellow at Cornell Law First Amendment Clinic, discuss their early experiences with FOI.
“There are strategies you can use that can maybe give you a better position in some cases, if you’re dealing with something more and more complex," Khan said. "But the basic blueprint for how to get records is really simple.”
Please consider a donation to the NFOIC in your year-end giving. Your contribution helps support the National Freedom of Information Coalition and its members in the work we do to keep government open and accountable. Your gift will help us:
Support open government advocates and journalists across the U.S.
Research trends and policies around public records and meetings.
Educate government agencies to properly administer transparency and FOI requirements.
Administer the Knight FOI Litigation Fund, which offers financial support in open government lawsuits.
NFOIC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Knight FOI Litigation Fund
Boosted by grant and assisted by coalition, Florida resident compels county group to meet in public
An Osceola County, Florida, judge ruled Nov. 22, 2021, that the county violated the state’s Sunshine Law by holding Executive Policy Group meetings without public notice or opportunity for the public to attend.
County resident Josh Meyers for 613 days challenged the county’s assertion that the Sunshine Law did not apply to the Executive Policy Group. With assistance from the Florida First Amendment Foundation and the NFOIC-administered Knight FOI Litigation Fund, Meyers sued.
“The EPG was authorized to enact legally binding executive orders, which were enforceable and had the effect of law,” Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Egan wrote. “This, by its very nature, is a decision-making act. Even though authority was given during a state of emergency, this delegated power did not excuse the EPG from comporting with the requirements outlined in the Sunshine Law.”
Receiving a grant from the Knight FOI Litigation Fund was “awesome,” Meyers said, “because we could go after several more depositions than we would have been able to pursue without.”
The county still has time to appeal the ruling.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Meyers said. “I hope this ruling keeps the county honest.”
When governments bow down to private vendors, they ignore public’s right to know, experts say
Governments in many states are shirking transparency laws and blocking the public’s right to know, choosing instead to protect the intellectual property rights of private vendors.
“This is not a Kansas problem. It’s not an Oregon problem. It’s an everywhere problem,” Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, told KCUR-FM, Kansas City’s NPR station, for a Nov. 18, 2021, article.
Kansas has allowed auditors and corporations to redact various documents related to drug spending on state employees, even though open-records lawyers say information in the documents should be public.
When governments do this, they effectively outsource the redaction process, placing a private company’s interests above the rights of the public, experts say.
Advocates for accountability applaud Maryland law that opens police disciplinary records
A new law in Maryland opens to the public more police disciplinary records.
According to a Nov. 24, 2021, report in The Washington Post, the new law has left police departments scrambling to respond to new records requests.
Advocates for open records and police accountability applaud the law.
“The inability to obtain records in police misconduct cases leads to an erosion of trust in the police, and erosion of police legitimacy, and all of that makes it more difficult for the police to do their job,” Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, told The Post. “Because if people don’t have trust and faith in their local police departments, they aren’t going to cooperate with law enforcement, they aren’t going to respect law enforcement officers.”
Stinson said that in New York, Illinois and other places where misconduct records have become more accessible, fears of officers being harassed have not come to pass.
Timely access to COVID-19 information serves
the public interest, Wisconsin brief argues
Third-party business groups have no valid legal basis to prevent the disclosure of COVID-19 outbreaks, and timely access to such information serves the public interest, especially during a pandemic.
Those are key arguments in an amicus brief written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and signed by 12 organizations, including the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
The case, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce v. Evers, now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, concerns the Wisconsin Department of Public Health’s plans to release names of businesses where at least two employees tested positive for COVID-19 or had close contacts. Business groups sought to block the records.
Letter urges N.Y. governor to make COVID-19 data more usable, become leader in transparency
The National Freedom of Information Coalition endorsed a letter penned by Reinvent Albany, urging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to make COVID-19 data more usable by the public.
Reinvent Albany, an NFOIC member, thanked Hochul for publishing more COVID-19 open data, and it asked her to “please finish the job.”
“The new COVID-19 webpage and datasets are a welcome step forward, and by going even further, New York State could become the clear leader in COVID-19 transparency,” the Nov. 24, 2021, letter reads. “Some important COVID-19 data is still not available or usable by the public.”
Dr. David Cuillier, University of Arizona, NFOIC president, and Dr. A.Jay Wagner, Marquette University, invite you to share your thoughts on problems and opportunities for improving the FOI process at all levels of government.
They will provide a summary of the results to the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee, which could serve in crafting recommendations for Congress.
If you’ve ever submitted an FOI request, please consider taking 10 minutes to complete the anonymous survey.
A 2021 survey of state coalitions for open government showed that the
greatest threats to government transparency today are legal exemptions primarily focused on protecting individual privacy. Learn how NFOIC members protect the public's right to know. Click the image above to download a PDF
of "States of Denial."