Livestock owners’ “phone directory” info should not be covered with blanket of secrecy

(Updated 5/23/13 at 1:18pm) Corrected 5/23/13 at 1:30pm The full Senate is taking up the farm bill (S. 954), and one amendment three amendments (Amendment 970, 1011 and 1097) from Senator Charles Grassley contain nearly identical language that would eliminate basic “phone directory” information from disclosure, including the name, address, contact info (including email address), GPS coordinates and other identifying information of livestock owners and operators. They claim it’s a defense against domestic terrorism. The EPA in the last few weeks released such information under FOIA to one (or more) environment groups. That release was criticized by some in Congress. However, [More]

House panel’s pointed letter to Justice sends impatient message on #FOIA

In a renewed and welcome spirit of bipartisanship, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this week sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) asking pointed questions about OIP’s actions to encourage agencies to comply with FOIA by reducing backlogs, reigning in the use of statutory exemptions and updating FOIA regulations.  We’re especially appreciative that Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) mentioned a database of the statutory exemptions to FOIA that we compiled and ProPublica published a while ago. This is a great time [More]

Better late than never: grand jury material of historical value

Grand jury information is one of the most sought-after types of information that the public cannot see generally under the federal FOIA. Think spies, organized crime, and sports stars accused of cheating through performance-enhancing drugs. So it is welcome to see the Justice Department recently announce a move to open the door on grand juries to the public just a little more. American laws and courts have long recognized that grand jury information merits secrecy, but several recent cases developing a “historical significance” exception have led the Department of Justice to propose codifying the terms under which courts may release such [More]

Pendulum swings towards disclosure, but agencies may push back

Advocates of transparency and access to government-held information may have gotten more than they expected in the Supreme Court’s recent Milner v. Department of the Navy decision, as the high court rejected a long-running agency exemption as impermissibly overbroad. But as agencies try to decide which information may now be eligible for release, we are concerned that they may overcompensate by using other exemptions to withhold information, by pushing a hodgepodge of legal and political protections, or both.

FOIA Oversight in the House

SGI Coordinator Rick Blum testified about FOIA’s capabilities and constraints at a full meeting of the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform, as one of several witnesses at “The Freedom of Information Act: Crowd-Sourcing Government Oversight. Joining Blum on the panel were Miriam Nisbet, director of the Office of Government Information Services, Dan Metcalfe, executive director of the Collaboration on Government Secrecy, Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, and Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy at the Project on Government Oversight. Chairman Darrell Issa framed several issues early and quickly by suggesting that FOIA should expand, but ultimately become [More]

Congress ought to repeal law concealing guns used in crimes

After publishing a lengthy investigation showing that guns used in crimes can be traced to a relatively small number of gun dealers, the Washington Post today editorialized that Congress should repeal the law that keeps that very data from the public.  Even though the federal government collects such data, Congress barred public disclosure of those data in a little noticed amendment to a 2003 spending bill. The Post concludes by noting the implications of such secrecy: Those with a high number of “crime gun” sales should be inspected frequently, and penalties for dealers who allow illegal transactions should be swift [More]

Let’s be clear – a friendly reminder

Recently, as the 111th Congress concluded its business before the 2010 midterm elections, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) introduced a bill, H.R. 6266, which, among other things, proposes to exempt certain law-enforcement guidelines from disclosure under the federal FOIA.  But it doesn’t even mention FOIA.

SGI applauds Congress & White House for quick fix to overbroad FOIA exemption for the SEC

Today President Obama signed into law a bill that sped through the House and Senate to quickly fix an overbroad exemption from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.  The Sunshine in Government Initiative appreciates the quick action and hard work of transparency leaders in Congress to correct this mistake.

Tracking FinReg’s SEC provision: Subtle word changes make a big difference

Between the legislative record for the SEC FOIA exemption in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the recent written statement of Mary Schapiro, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, we have been able to clarify the origin and evolution of the three confidentiality provisions that became law in Section 929I.  And despite Schapiro’s descriptions of the provisions in terms that downplay the importance or effect of changes in the language, we have observed the addition of two phrases, in two stages, to the FOIA exemptions in what would become Section 929I of the financial reform legislation. The first change [More]