The Senate Judiciary Committee held a FOIA hearing today. If you want to watch the 97 minute event as a webcast, you can go here. If you just want to read what happened at the hearing, the Washington Post has this article.
The Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy ("OIP") has provided guidance to agency FOIA Officers in reporting how their agencies have followed Attorney General Holder's memorandum on FOIA transparency.
I look forward to reading the reports and comparing them to what requesters have seen in their own experience.
The SEC Office of Inspector General has audited the SEC's FOIA Operations and came up with a conclusion that should shock no one, the SEC's FOIA Operations has serious deficiencies. The AP's report on the audit can be found here; Forbe's is here.
On Wednesday September 30, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the FOIA. There are four speakers slotted to testify, Thomas J. Parrelli of the Department of Justice, Miriam Nisbet of NARA, Tom Curley of the AP and Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF") has won the release of telecom lobbying records relating to the industries lobbying to receive retroactive immunity under the NSA's warrantless surveillance program.
The government tried to withhold material sent to Congress as well as material sent to it by the telecom firms lunder exemption 5, but the court found that in both cases, the threshold of Exemption 5 had not been met and ordered the documents released. The court also found that the names of the telecom officials who lobbied congress was not protected under the personal privacy protections of exemption 6.
The EFF press release on the case can be found here, the judge's decision can be found here.
The Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight is holding a hearing on public databases housing data on government contractors on Tuesday, September 29th at 10 AM ET. Witnesses include Vivek Kundra, Federal CIO; William Woods, GAO; Adam Hughes, OMB Watch; and A.R. Trey Hodgkins, III, TechAmerica.
Basically, GSA is awarding a contract to build what could become a unified inter-agency contracting database, but very little public input has been asked for or received. We hope to shine some light on the process and invite some public comment.
To help create that dialogue, Chairman McCaskill of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight will ask for question suggestions from the public and the open government community. You can provide questions at this site.
I have been informed that the SEC is blatantly ignoring FOIA Case Law and DOJ Guidance on basic requests for information; namely a requester sought copies of the SEC's internal news clips for a specific time period. Rather than simply processing and releasing the material, the SEC cited exemption 3 to block the release and cited the Copyright act as the statute allowing it to use Exemption 3.
The problem, of course is that DOJ guidance and case law specifically say that the Copyright act is not an Exemption 3 statute and the material should be released. So, instead of just answering a FOIA request properly, the SEC has blocked transparency on a minor matter.
The fact that an agency can misinterpret and/or ignore FOIA guidance and case law is just frustrating to requesters. And in the bigger picture it shows just how easy it probably was for Bernie Madoff to get away with it for all those years.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that corporations can have personal privacy that is protected pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C). The case came about when the FCC ordered the release of an investigation of ATT and ATT took the case to the 3rd Circuit under jurisdictional rules that apply to FCC matters. As such, it was a little different from the normal FOIA case that goes through an administrative appeal and district court review. The sole legal issue was whether the personal privacy protections of Exemption 7(C) applied to corporations and the three judges reviewing the case found that it did based on the wording of the FOIA. The Court remanded the case back the FCC for more administrative proceedings, namely the FCC now must weigh the public interest in disclosure against the personal privacy of ATT.
At first blush, I think that if the decision sticks, the public will find out much less about corporate acts that are investigated by the government. This will not help the public or stockholders in the long run. Down the road, Congress may need to get involved to stress that 7(C) protection applies only to individuals.
The Department of Justice has published its summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal 2008. There was a huge decrease in the number of requests reported because the government has now taken pure Privacy Act requests out of the reporting--so the previous years numbers do not tell anyone if requests are increasing or decreasing.