Supreme Court Ruling Hurts Open Government – May 14, 2013 Newsletter

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Supreme Court Ruling Hurts Open Government
II. Groups Recommend Changes FOIA Litigation Data Report

News from Coalition Partners & Others


OTG Welcomes Project Censored

OpenTheGovernment.org is pleased to welcome Project Censored, an organization dedicated to media freedom, to the coalition. Project Censored provides student training for free press advocacy and works with independent media groups to highlight “the news that didn’t make the news.” Learn more about the organization here. Descriptions of all OTG partners can be found on our website, along with a social media directory.


Join the Call for Records on Foreclosures

The Project on Government Oversight has launched a petition for the release of documents that would shed a light on violations of state and federal law by mortgage companies. In April, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings got a taste of the requester community’s regular frustrations when the Federal Reserve and Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) refused to produce documents related to illegal foreclosures and other unlawful activity investigated by the agencies. Join POGO’s petition for the documents’ release to Congress—and the public here.


Partners Call for Travel Cost Transparency

Several groups joined Public Citizen to urge members of Congress to support the Foreign Travel Cost Disclosure Act (H.R. 1359). The bill requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a cost estimate for the use of military aircraft for official travel and would make the cost available to the public on the Secretary’s website. The letter to members of Congress is available here.

I. Supreme Court Ruling Hurts Open Government

On April 29 the Supreme Court unanimously decided that that Virginia, and by extension any state, is not obligated to honor or respond to FOIA requests from people not residing in the state. OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our partners signed onto an amicus brief authored by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) that urged the Court to rule that the Constitution does not permit a state’s open records law to discriminate against citizens of other states.

Our partners at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and Muckrock joined in a separate friend-of-the-court brief illustrating how laws like Virginia’s obstruct reporting.

According to research done by MuckRock, at least five states currently bar out-of-state requesters from using their open records laws. MuckRock has also recruited a network of volunteer requesters in states that restrict access who are willing to file requests for non-state residents. For more information, visit MuckRock.com.

II. Groups Recommend Changes FOIA Litigation Data Report

OpenTheGovernment.org joined the Center for Effective Government and others in welcoming the decision by the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make data from the 2012 FOIA Litigation and Compliance Report available in a machine-readable form. As the letter notes, making the data more available will help the public better analyze and understand how agencies are carrying out their obligations under the FOIA, and DOJ's litigation stance. The letter also makes suggestions for improving the release of similar data in the future.

Additionally, we joined with our friends at CREW and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to bring some serious errors in the report's data to OIP's attention. The type of errors discovered in the report were particularly unsettling because the released data misrepresents whether the settlement included attorney’s fees and costs, a metric that allows DOJ and the public to monitor the number of cases where the agency's position lacked merit, and litigation should not have been necessary. OIP has assured us that they are addressing the errors in the current data and are considering how to put in place quality checks to make sure future releases are more accurate.

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