Drafting a Civil Society National Action Plan for Open Government – July 9, 2013 Newsletter

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Drafting a Civil Society National Action Plan for Open Government
II. It's Never the Wrong Time to File a FOIA

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Partners Join Call for Declassification of Detention and Interrogation Report

Seventeen organizations, including OpenTheGovernment.org, joined the Constitution Project to ask President Obama to declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigative report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. In the letter, groups argue that the public deserves to know the full scope of the programs and that withholding the report significantly impedes informed public debate.

Reporters Committee Pushes Supreme Court to Keep Government Contractors Accountable to FOIA

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief encouraging the Supreme Court to reject a Court of Appeals decision that interpreted FOIA Exemption 5 – which allows the government to withhold privileged internal agency records – to be broadly applied to a government contractor that can show it has a "common interest" with the government in a particular matter and, thus, positions private contractors as actors similar to agency employees. According to the brief, the Fourth Circuit’s opinion positions could allow contractors to block documents from disclosure under FOIA. An overview of the case can be found here.

EPIC Challenges NSA Surveillance Program

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Monday filed an emergency petition with the US Supreme Court challenging the National Security Agency (NSA) telephone record surveillance program. EPIC is arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) exceeded its authority when it "ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation." 

I. Drafting a Civil Society National Action Plan for Open Government

As many of you may remember, our final evaluation of the US' efforts to carry out its first US National Action Plan found that while the government met most of the commitments in the plan, the government did not make as much progress towards openness as we all hoped. As a result, we encouraged the Administration to include more ambitious commitments in the next version of its plan.

To help make sure the Administration has a clear understanding of what we mean by "ambitious," OpenTheGovernment.org recently launched an effort to encourage civil society organizations to draft the kind of commitments they would like to see included in the plan. The draft commitments are all things the Administration could reasonably be expected to meet in a one to two year time frame. The draft commitments also explain the issue meant to be addressed by the commitment, and include a specific timeline and benchmarks. The draft commitments we have so far include those related to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), agencies' open government plans, regulatory compliance data, and the regulatory review process. After July 16, we will be giving the Administration copies of all of the draft commitments.

The draft commitments we will hand over to the Administration are not intended to be all-encompassing or represent the consensus views of the community.

This online form may be used to submit a proposed commitment. OTG staff will review the submissions to make sure they meet the guidelines prior to posting.

II. It's Never the Wrong Time to File a FOIA

We hope you joined us in our campaign to honor the 47th birthday of the FOIA and your right to know by filing a FOIA on the 4th. As regular visitors to our site and followers on Twitter may know, our Program Associate Abby filed a request with the DC government for copies of any plans to make sure the Anacostia running trail is safe to use and our Assistant Director Amy asked the Smithsonian for copies of any plans it has to notify people living near the National Zoo about escaped animals. If you did join the campaign, we hope you also returned to our site to pick up your “I FOIA’d” badge.

Even if you missed the 4th of July deadline, though, there is never a wrong time to file a FOIA. We listed lots of ideas on our campaign page including health and safety inspections for your favorite restaurants, the license status and history of the child or senior care facilities, and much more. We also have links to resources to make it easier for you to file your request. Happy FOIA'ing!

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