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Tag Archive: Freedom of Information

India’s FOI Anniversary Spurs Political Finance Transparency

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The eighth anniversary of India’s freedom of information law, the Right to Information Act (RTI), could become an important milestone in the country’s transparency agenda. The 2005 sunshine law has already made a tremendous impact on how Indian decision makers respond to public scrutiny efforts, and this year has seen a heated public debate around the finances of political parties with the anniversary creating momentum to rethink (and maybe even redesign) the country's current political finance transparency landscape.

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When Are Public Officials’ Calls and Emails Public Records?

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Public officials are elected or appointed to do the people's business, but what happens to transparency when they do that business through private channels? There have been cases across the country revolving around public officials using private methods of communication -- like personal email accounts or cell phones -- to conduct public business. When citizens request to know more about business done by their representatives, these private communications have, at times, served as blocks to the public's right to access information. As some of these cases are being decided in courts, we've seen a wide variety of responses from state and local governments about how to handle this public records issue.

In Alaska, such a case made it all the way to that state's Supreme Court. A citizen questioned the practice of former Governor Sarah Palin using a personal email account to conduct public business. Alaska's Supreme Court decided that if the state's employees use personal email for public business, those records must be made available to the public.

At least one government body on the other side of the country reached a similar conclusion about the value of keeping public business in the public record. The Washington, D.C., council voted to require members and employees to conduct public business on their public accounts. This move came after an open government group sued the council for not sharing public business done on personal accounts. The Mayor has also directed government employees to stay away from using personal email accounts for official business.

Not all government bodies are moving toward requiring this kind of disclosure, unfortunately.

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FOIA Friday

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This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a unique case revolving around how states deal with people and businesses from outside their borders when responding to Freedom of Information requests. The case tackles some of the different ways that each individual state administers their Freedom of Information Act, but it got me thinking about ways the the Federal level FOIA could be improved. Luckily, we heard three compelling presentations on this very topic at the most recent Advisory Committee on Transparency event. The talks dealt with limiting and defining exemptions as well as proactively releasing more information without waiting for a FOI request to be made. Click read more to see the videos!

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Creating better public access to information

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Public- and private-sector experts from Mexico and the United States explored how laws granting public access to government information can be more effective at a recent Wilson Center event. Mexico's freedom of information law is hailed by some experts as a “gold standard” because it set a high bar: treating all information as public rather than secret. Those same experts agree, however, that legal and cultural changes are needed to make the system more effective. Mexico is still working to create a supporting set of laws for its freedom of information centerpiece. IFAI, the autonomous government body overseeing freedom of information in Mexico, is working to gain more enforcement power that will help it ensure government officials comply with the law. As the law stands now, IFAI has little power to tell a federal body that they must comply with freedom of information standards.

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Powerful financial council could deny or delay public information

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A newly created powerful federal financial council will have broad latitude to deny or delay Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests if it adopts proposed rules, charges a financial watchdog group.

Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the new Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), is explicity made subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Council, whose members are representatives of major financial agencies, has authority to collect wide-ranging information about financial institutions, such as internal company documents, in its mission to ensure the stability of the financial system. In late March, the Council published proposed rules on how the ...

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