Today in OpenGov: How to avoid FOIA and be influenced by people


In today's edition, we ask how to ensure that smart cities are also open cities, lawmakers embrace "ethical hacking," exploring America's secret "forever wars," and more. 

states and cities

Missouri broke the bank by estimating that one FOI request would cost nearly $1.5 million to process. Via MuckRock.
  • Mapping FOI fees across the 50 states. "From million-dollar price tags to requests for a few cents, MuckRock and its users have had its fair share of FOIA fee debacles. We decided to look at our 50,000+ requests to-date and break down the biggest in each state. Although many requesters still find the fee system to be a major barrier for obtaining documents, MuckRock’s data showed fees are still the exception rather than the norm. In fact, 48,000 total requests filed through MuckRock showed no fees assessed. Looking at just local and state requests, we found that less than half had fees associated with them. We broke down the numbers even further and noted that the majority of our state and local requests landed between the zero to $1000 range, although there were jaw-dropping outliers in the hundred of thousands and even millions." (MuckRock)
  • What makes a smart city an open city? Maryiam Saifuddin looked back at her summer exploring smart cities at the Sunlight Foundation: "I investigated how cities deploying “smart” technologies are addressing issues of privacy and data security. In particular, I was interested in mechanisms of public disclosure, accountability, and transparency around these topics. Based on my research, I determined five guiding principles to make a smart city an open city." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • If this think tank is part of a public university why aren't its employees subject to public records rules? "The Intercept wanted to learn more about how Mercatus sought to massage public opinion and contain the fallout from the unintended implications of their paper. George Mason University is a public university in Virginia that is subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which The Intercept used to request communications between Mercatus and members of the media. That’s when The Intercept learned that the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is not, apparently, part of George Mason University." (The Intercept)
  • Three residents sue Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill after he blocks them on Twitter. "Three Alabama residents have filed a lawsuit against Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill after he blocked them on Twitter. The American Civil Liberties Union, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three individuals, said in the claim that Secretary of State John Merrill violated the First Amendment rights of his own constituents by blocking them from viewing his official Twitter account." (The Hill)

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announces intention to vote against Brett Kavanaugh's nomination, citing his record on campaign finance. "Moderate Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill will vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, narrowing the number of potential Democratic votes the nominee can secure. The Missouri senator, who is up for reelection this fall in a conservative state, cited Kavanaugh’s views on 'dark, anonymous money that is crushing our democracy.'" (POLITICO)
  • Watchdog group files federal complaint against Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) after the FEC forced her to return certain funds. "A progressive group in Utah that advocates government transparency and accountability filed a federal complaint against Representative Mia Love, a Republican, on Tuesday over alleged campaign finance violations, escalating the liberal fight against the vulnerable incumbent just seven weeks before November’s midterm elections. Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive nonprofit, filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission and sent a detailed letter to the commission’s general counsel and the chief of the public integrity section at the Department of Justice’s criminal division. The letter, which comes after the commission forced Ms. Love to acknowledge that some of her primary funds had been improperly raised, argues that Ms. Love’s 'actions are a betrayal of the public trust and of Utah voters,” and “should be subject to criminal penalties.'" (New York Times)
  • Lawmakers want "ethical hackers" and security researchers to probe DHS for vulnerabilities, despite agency resistance. "The House Homeland Security Committee advanced a pair of bipartisan bills late last week that would force the Department of Homeland Security to open the door to security researchers to probe the agency for cybersecurity vulnerabilities. DHS has resisted such a move, but lawmakers are ready to force the agency’s hand, saying independent testing is an important step toward improving its cyber hygiene." (Washington Post)
  • New report explores America's "forever wars" and the secrecy that sustains them. "After 17 years, three presidents, $5.6 trillion, and hundreds of thousands of human lives lost, it’s time Americans started asking more questions about where, why, and for how long the country will remain at war. After all, the average taxpayer has spent more than $23,000 on the wars, without even a comprehensive understanding of all the places where our troops are deployed, much less a clearly articulated vision for what victory might look like, or when the wars might end. As the wars have stretched on and expanded, public knowledge of what is happening on the battlefield has also waned." (Open The Government)
  • The Department of Justice seized a New York Times reporter's phone and email records. Now it's being sued for withholding records related to the action. "A California-based First Amendment group is suing the Justice Department in federal court over the agency's seizure of phone and email records from Ali Watkins, a reporter at The New York Times. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, First Amendment Coalition (FAC) alleged that the Justice Department had violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by withholding documents related to the seizure of Watkins's email and phone records. Watkins, at the time, covered national security for the Times." (The Hill)
  • Did the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau break the law during a recent meeting with a group of political donors? "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggested Wednesday that Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, may have violated federal law by speaking to a group of donors, in the latest of a series of stinging letters to the Trump administration official. Warren questioned whether Mulvaney, who is also White House budget director, violated the Hatch Act in appearing at a 'closed-door event in New York City' this month with Republican Party officials and contributors, as reported by The New York Times. The law bars executive branch officials from engaging in certain types of political activity." (POLITICO)


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